Friday, March 14, 2014

Adventures in God

Although Buber (as mentioned two posts back) denies the implications of his own theology, he writes in his most famous work, I and Thou, that "we know unshakably in our hearts that there is a becoming of the God that is" (quoted by Harthsorne).

If there is becoming, then there is change. But Buber doesn't like the sound of that, so he stops well short of pursuing his own common sense -- or common experience -- to its theo-logical deustiny.

But for Hartshorne, Buber's words are just plain logic, "neither less nor more," so theologians (including Buber!) who balk at their implications are being "wonderfully illogical."

Some say that to affirm change in God is to deny omniscience, because if God is omniscient then he can by no means be "surprised" by change. In this view, God is the last jaded word in Been There/Done That.

That is, what looks like change to us must be as one big spatiotemporal block to God, where everything -- past, present and future -- is taken in at once. Or in other words, for God, time is not temporal, but rather, spatial.

To which one can only respond with a shrug of the shoulders and the old "that's one way of looking at it."

But that way has never appealed to me, neither emotionally nor intellectually, not to mention spiritually. Rather, I like the idea of adventure, including Adventure in God. What if God is the quintessential adventurer and creation is the ultimate E-ticket adventure?

To which one may well respond with a shrug of the shoulders and the old "that's one way of looking at it."

I mean, far be it from me to start an argument if you prefer to be a religious couch potato resting in the comfort and safety of your own delusions.

I want to briefly skip ahead to the contribution by a Nahum Glatzer, professor of Judaic Studies at Brandeis. It seems to me that he absolutely Nails It in observing that the prophets teach "the freedom of choice."

Now, "Israel is in the hand of God like the clay to a potter's hand." However, this does not mean the future is settled and that our freedom is an illusion.

For on the one (potter's) hand, "God plans the destiny of nations and of men." Bueno. I think we can all agree on that.

However! "In choosing the good," it is as if man "causes" God to renounce his plan for what would have occurred had man turned away from the good. Or, in choosing evil, man "causes" God to adjust his plans accordingly.

Thus -- common sense again -- "Because there is a covenantal relationship between God and man, man has the power of turning to the good or the evil, and thus also the power of turning the tide of events."

Therefore, what happens to man is "the divine answer to his choice." This is no "mechanical relationship of cause and effect," but rather, "a dialogical correspondence between God and man."

This is because "God wants man to come to Him in perfect freedom"(emphasis mine and God's). This being the case, the future "cannot be a result of pre-determination," for "the spirit of God assumes the attitude of 'waiting' for man to fulfill the intention of Creation."

But predetermination always creeps back in like the worship of Ba'al, for any ideology that denies man's freedom and claims that the future is written is an iteration of the same old gnostic ba'algame, from Hegel and Marx on down to our own contemporary progressive clownocracy.

If Hollywood has taught us anything, it is that "Truly, for some men nothing is written unless THEY write it" (Lawrence of Arabia).

Of course, God is always the cowriter, and he has a contingency plan for every eventuality, but that does not equate to omniscience in the sense usually understood.

Rather, for Hartshorne -- common sense again -- omniscience is "limited" to what can be known. And what can be conceivably known is EVERYTHING that has happened and is happening. But unless we deny all distinctions between past, present and future, then "knowledge" of the future must be a different sort of thing.

For some reason, religious people are generally uncomfortable with this idea, but I am profoundly uncomfortable with its alternative, for there would be no reason to get up in the morning if it weren't for the opportunity to participate in a new adventure in and with God. I mean, is he just faking the interest?

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.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

I AM, IRS, and You are IT

I would like to expand upon some of the ideas discussed in yesterday's post, including the conflict between theo-logic and theology, or revealed vs. manmode intellection.

First of all, I would say that there is both objective and subjective revelation. Objective revelation consists of, for example, scripture.

But scripture must not only come from a subject, but be addressed to one. Therefore, the subject is both anterior and posterior to the divine message. And we can only decode the divine message on our end because of our similarity to the messenger.

Therefore, I think subjectivity itself is a cosmic revelation -- which shouldn't come as a shock, being that God identifies himself as I AM. In all of existence, there are only two beings who can say I AM: God and man.

In this briefest of sentences, I goes to Ontology (or Being), AM to Existence. Thus, to say I AM is to say that the Subject really exists. It is not just some ideal abstraction, nor just a sum total of local behaviors. It is real, even the ultimate real, i.e., God.

You could also say that I and AM go to transcendence and immanence, respectively. As we all know from personal experience, our I endures regardless of the experiences it encounters. Yet, the I only exists via these experiences. Just as form and substance can be separated only in the imagination, it seems that the same applies to I and AM: you never see one without the other.

Which is again why I find Buber's theology so coongenial, what with his belief that the I-THOU relation constitutes the irreducible essence of reality. What this really represents is an I to I relation, or I AM and YOU ARE. But as a result of the relation, an ontic third is introduced: WE ARE.

And what is the glue that holds the cosmic WE together? In Christian metaphysics it is called love. Thus, love is the concrete expression of a more abstract principle of unity, or mutuality, or intersubjectivity.

Conversely, hate, for example, would represent a denial of the YOU ARE. When we hate someone, it entitles us, so to speak, to treat them as an object, not a subject.

I should add that the other link between I AM and YOU ARE is knowledge or truth. Therefore, another form of denial of the link would be the Lie. The Lie always erodes human community, one more reason to detest the left, which is both the cause and consequence of vicious and foolish lies.

The other day, I heard Dennis Prager say that the older he has gotten, the more he has come to believe that truth is the most important societal value. I agree entirely. If you consider any collective human evil, up to and including genocide, it is always founded upon Lies that permit human beings to commit the evil. Nazism was, of course, evil. But prior to that it was a monstrous Lie. Likewise communism or any other ideology that commits evil in its name.

This makes it a matter of some urgency to understand the Truth of Things. Why, for example, has the United States not only been a benign influence in the world, but repeatedly saved its ass?

Because it comes the closest to being organized around permanent truths of man, truths grounded in the spiritual freedom of the sacred human subject; which is to say, the freedom of the I to determine its own AM, and not be treated like an IT.

Which is precisely what the state must do, since it is an IT, not an I. Millions of Americans, for example, are furious that ObamaCare is treating them like a worthless IT, an object, an insect. Well, what did you expect?

Likewise, how do you expect the IRS to behave? If there is one government agency that excels at treating humans as contemptible objects, it is the IRS.

But this relation is not reversible. That is to say, now that Lois Lerner has been busted for treating conservatives even worse than other cITizens, she takes refuge in the permanent truth of the inviolable I AM that must be protected from the invasive reach of the IT-state.

Ironic? Yeah, like Kim Jong Un getting 100% of the vote in the North Korean election. Who would have guessed?

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Theology, Theologic, and Theomena

Excuse me? Theomena?

That would be the best word I can think of at the moment for spiritual facts and divine data (a variation on phenomena and noumena). Irrespective of whether one is a believer or not, these facts surely exist. Indeed, man is not man without them, for in every time and place, man has experienced and known them.

Theology (as I am using the term) begins at the other end and works deductively.

That is, it begins with an organized revelation from above, a vertical memo from God to man. To engage in theology is to dwell in the message, to work out its implications, and to demonstrate how it is relevant to man within a total system encompassing cosmic origins, the proper conduct of one's life, and our post-biological destiny.

Theo-Logic is the title of Balthasar's trilogy, but I mean the term in a different way, basically similar to ordinary logic, only applied to spiritual facts, i.e., theomena.

Thus, theologic starts by working inductively from the facts, which in turn generate models from which new facts may be deduced. In a way this would represent "natural theology," only not in so restricted a definition, since it would include, for example, mystical facts and not just, say, the metaphysical transparency and intelligibility of nature.

Over the weekend I came across an interesting example of how theology and theologic can be at odds. But this is actually a common occurrence, which makes me wonder: is revelation a kind of preconscious or collective attempt at a more systematic theologic, only expressed to the multitude in mythico-cultural terms? (Short answer: sometimes and sometomes.)

Or, is theologic a kind of promethean effort to deny the authority of revelation by trying to make it conform to human terms? In other words, is the latter an attempt to cut God down to human size by insisting that he fit into our logical categories?

For most of human history this wasn't a problem, for each culture knew only its own (even if primitive) theology, in the light of which theomena were understood and interpreted.

Our Yanomamö friends, for example, had their own way of dealing with death, by placing the remains of a cremated tribesman into their banana soup and consuming them. It seems that the instinct of communion is a theomena that goes all the way up and down the vertical food chain.

Over the weekend I was reading a volume of the Library of Living Philosophers devoted to the great Jewish theologian Martin Buber. But right there we have a potential conflict, since Buber would no doubt characterize himself as a theologian first, with philosophy per se coming in a distant second. Thus, to apply theologic to his theology may be problematic.

Which it proves to be right out the gate, with the annoying Professor Hartshorne popping into the proceedings in chapter two. We've discussed this noodge in the recent past, and he naturally generated some controversy, since (among other heresies) he maintains with ironclad and invincible theologic that God is not only subject to change, but that he is perfect change.

Thus, he inverts the traditional idea that change is intrinsically bad by elevating God to the quintessence of change, and suggesting that a changeless God would actually be a monstrosity -- certainly nothing to whom we could relate (or could relate to us, because to relate is to be relative, QED -- QED being Latin for 'nuff said or in yo' face!).

Now, the main reason I am intrigued by Buber's theology is his delineation of the I-Thou relation as the ultimate ontological category.

I am in complete agreement with Buber, and would place this principle at the center of my own humble theologic: that God is not defined by substance, but rather, by relation. The relation is intrinsic, not somehow "added," which, in my opinion, goes to the principle of a trinitarian Godhead.

Buber, of course, does not go there. But at the same time, he seems to pull back from the full implications of his own theologic, even within a Jewish framework. When these implications are drawn out by Hartshorne, he rejects them entirely. At the end of the volume, Buber is given the opportunity to reply to his critics and interlocutors, and his response to Hartshorne is pretty blunt:

"The metaphysics he presents as my own I cannot acknowledge.... Because I say of God, that He enters into a relationship to the human person, God shall be not absolute but relative!" Not on my watch!

But that is not exactly what Hartshorne is saying. I too used to believe that "absolutely relative" is a contradiction in terms, but think about it.

Think, for example, of the Trinity. Wouldn't it be accurate to say that the Father is absolutely relative to the Son, and vice versa? In other words, there is no God that can be conceptualized as "separate" from his Son (and therefore us). Thus his relativity is absolute. (Which is why I invented the term abbasolute to combine the two.)

Again, I believe something similar is implied in Buber's description of the I-Thou relation to God. Clearly, we relate to the Thou of God. What, God doesn't relate to us in return? What do the facts -- the theomena -- say?

In the brief autobubergraphical section at the beginning of the book, he speaks of his early experience of "a dialogical relationship between man and God, thus of a free partnership of man in a conversation between heaven and earth..." (Sounds like [↓↑], the old One-Two.)

Elsewhere he speaks of how man cannot be a "self-enclosed unity of the spirit." Rather, "only through opening out, through entering into openness, does the spirit that has descended into the human realm" become coherent and enduring. This represents a "genuine reciprocity," opposed to which is any metaphysic that encloses man within himself.

Indeed, this self-enclosure is a "sin against the holy spirit." Furthermore, it is the perennial "opponent of mankind," a sentiment with which I am in one hundred percent agreement; for me, vertical and/or horizontal closure are the original sin.

But why? Well, if we take seriously the idea that we are in the image of the Creator, and the Creator is perfect relationship, then that is called a divine clueprint. And we need to get one.

To be continued...