Tuesday, October 08, 2013

Why Does God Bother?

Time only for a speedpost this morning.

So, why bother at all? Is it so important that I come up with some tendentious new slant on the same old rant? Am I like the federal government, which must continue to function, because if it doesn't, everyone will realize how irrelevant it is? Am I worried that no one will notice if there's no gnosis here?

To be honest, I am plagued by a kind of creeping uselessness if I fail to post. The main thing that makes my life extra-ordinary is it's focus on the trans-ordinary, on what surpasses me.

Or rather, the reverse: the task is essentially to refract eternity through time; or in other words, to elevate the mundane via the transmundane. Only in so doing does life become a true adventure of consciousness, through which we participate in God's own adventure.

Speaking of which, there are a lot of things I don't like about process theology, but a few others to which I am strongly attracted. The question before the house is whether this attraction is really coming from the Attractor, or whether it is just the way I'd prefer reality to be.

In particular, I'm referring to the idea of true creativity, spontaneity, and adventure -- and therefore, change -- existing in God.

After all, if God isn't "changed" by his creation, why does he bother? What's the point? If he truly knows how it will all end, in every detail, then I don't get it. Yes, you could affirm the traditional idea that he creates as pure gift, but again, isn't the point of a gift a transfer of feeling? A gift is just the signifier of a transaction.

But the traditional view holds that God gives without getting or needing anything in return. Frankly, he can't receive anything, because he's already complete. Just as you can't make water wetter by adding more water, you can't make God lovelier by adding more love.

Well, I don't care. I don't like that vision of God, and that's all there is to it.

Yes, you can go too far in the opposite direction, and make God too human, but that's not what we're talking about. Rather, as Hartshorne suggests, there is simply no possibility of determinism on any level of reality. Determinism is an impossibility, an absurdity, a nothing. If it existed, then surely we couldn't know it, because the knowledge wouldn't be distinct from the determined. Everything would be exactly as it is, with no possibility of change, novelty, or surprise. While something might superficially appear to undergo change, if the change is determined, then it isn't really change.

But without the possibility of change, I don't see why human existence is worth the trouble. And if determinism is the case, then life is neither worth nor not worth the trouble. Rather, it just is. It's something to endure in all its absurdity until the curtain closes.

However, if we participate in the Absolute -- or the Absolute participates in us -- then this changes everything.

In process theology, God is still "the supreme cause and influence," but he is also "affected by the contingent world, a world which is external as well as internal to him." In short -- and for some reason this is heretical -- "God influences us eminently, but we also influence God, something that devout worshipers have always believed [see, I'm not the only one], or at least hoped" (McMurrin).

Now, I do believe that we need to be supremely cautious in entering these waters, for there is abundant room for error. But Hartshorne echoes what I alluded to above, in writing that "if we could not influence God, our existence would be simply vain."

Of course, that doesn't prove it's true, but another thing I've never understood is why God would want us to internalize a belief system that makes to sense to us, and violates both our reason and our experience.

If God is a person, then he is a thou to our I. The corollary to this is that he is an I to our thou. In other words, there is a dia-logue, and "this dialogue is religion. God creates us as free creatures, but in our free creativity we add to the divine life. Our creativity is God's potentiality being actualized" (ooh, I like that, which is why I emphasized it).

Now, I realize that this appears to erode God's omniscience, but not necessarily. Rather, we just need to think of omniscience in a different way. God, of course, knows all there is to know about all there is. But some things isn't, at least not yet. If we are truly free and the future isn't written in stone, it's not yet knowable. Therefore, it is still the case that "nothing surpasses God." It's just that God eternally surpasses himself.

Nor does it mean God doesn't "have a plan." But a plan is not identical to the way we fulfill it. The blueprint isn't the building.

I like the idea of God surpassing himself. I just find it very appealing, and it seems to me that this would be a good explanation for why the Trinity is the Way It Is -- or Are, rather. God is still very much necessary existence. But instead of necessary being, he is necessary becoming. To say that God is in any way necessary seems to limit him, but this isn't true. "Necessary being" is just a way of saying that it is impossible for God to not exist.

The only difference is again that God's being eternally surpasses itself. In that sense he is "static," in that ever-surpassing trinitarian LoveTruthBeauty is the universal reality.

So, that's why I blog. "Freedom is 'becoming,' which is the creation of definiteness where causation has made alternatives possible to free decision or action. The future is open, indefinite, and indeterminate, The past is closed, definite, and, I presume, determined" (McMurrin).

And yes, "in the last analysis all knowledge is circular; it is simply a question of who has the biggest circle." So all this cosmic expounding is my little way to keep the cosmos expanding, i.e, to keep growing in O, as O grows in I.


mushroom said...

In short -- and for some reason this is heretical ...

I read that as "hysterical". That may still be right.

God takes the high road, and we take the low road, and, while He may be in Scotland a'fore us, He is along with us on the scenic route.

Determinism seems like it would be a locked down, hellish version of eternity. All points and no process, consciousness and time mere matters of positional perception.

Instead eternity is "waiting" to meet the future, waiting for time to catch up.

Magister said...

Thomas speaks to these issues in the Summa Contra Gentiles. If I follow the logic there correctly, God's consciousness is not in time because time/duration itself is a function of creation. God is present by virtue of his infinite being to every instant of creation, and via this presence, has perfect knowledge, even of things that do not exist but are possible. Your question is whether God can be surprised or delighted by any of this creation. I think that question assumes that God's consciousness has duration, which may be projecting a model of human consciousness onto Him. If God is all one simultaneous burst (or Act) of Being, then perhaps his delight and surprise are also all there, all over the place in fact, like one massive whoop of infinite joy. So your freedom, the true exercise of which delights and surprises Him, is certainly part of His consciousness -- it's just that His surprise is everywhere, all at once. I'm just speculating here.

julie said...

I'm surprised there aren't more comments to this one, but I quite like Magister's take.

Regarding determinism, strangely enough your take ties in to some thoughts I've had on playing computer games lately. (I know, I know - not a thing for many here; bear with me a moment.). A big part of the appeal of some of the games I enjoy is that the game is a vessel for a story in which the player is an active participant. The best and most compelling ones allow for a strong element of creativity on the part of the player, even as there's an overarching and predetermined storyline. In other words, to some extent they mimic life.

Of course, that doesn't prove it's true, but another thing I've never understood is why God would want us to internalize a belief system that makes to sense to us, and violates both our reason and our experience.

Yes; that's why I could never believe in literal creationism. God is not a liar. If the fossil record shows without a doubt that life existed millions of years ago, then that's just how long it must have taken. To think that he'd will it all into existence with false records built in is simply a non-starter.

USS Ben USN (Ret) said...

Today's post brings a deeper appreciation of why God became human to begin with, and with that, so much more to coontemplate.

USS Ben USN (Ret) said...

Actually, this entire series is somewhat uncharted territory for me. Not completely, but much of it.
In any sense, I like it. :^)

Gagdad Bob said...

It reminds me of when I first began having Conservative Thoughts, and had to try to figure out why they couldn't possibly be true. Likewise, I find myself trying to figure out why the process conception of God can't be right, in spite of my attraction.

BTW, the Breitbart book in the sidebar is very entertaining. I can relate to many aspects of his transformation from unthinking ambient liberal to conservative warlord, minus the warlord part. I wouldn't be happy being constantly engaged with that hateful rabble. Which is why he is so irreplaceable.

JP said...

Perhaps some of the problem with process theology is the current process theologians.

They've gotten something right, but it's mixed up with a long of psycho-spiritual wrong, perhaps.

There is something wrong with the vibe that I get from some of them. An arrogance? The squishyness of vague relativism?

I don't think of in terms of duration, but in terms of amplitude.

Me = candle flame

God = sun

As long as you start from there, the issue of process theology is not as much of a problem.

The problem arises when you get into the entire issue of the Arcanum of the Moon - Chapter XVIII.

Plus, I'm bound by my own geometry, whereas God is not.

I've been digging through some of the esotera trying to figure things out, being that digging through the esotera is what I do.

Gagdad Bob said...

Yes, in practice it seems to be a Trojan horse to smuggle in all kinds of (liberal) nonsense. I'm going to try to see if I can swing it minus the kookery.

ge said...

"I wouldn't be happy being constantly engaged with that hateful rabble."
---not too great for the Heart I'd imagine neither

River Cocytus said...

Bob, two things.

1. John C. Wright had a post on the paradox of freedom and determinism, I think it's 'lost in a Garden of Forking paths'

2. Doesn't God, through the incarnation and the Church itself, make himself able to be added to?

Van Harvey said...

“Our creativity is God's potentiality being actualized"

Ooh.... I reeeally like that.

Van Harvey said...

Hey! My phone worked!

Joan of Argghh! said...

"No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you." John 15:15