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

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Omniscience, Omnipotence, Omnipathos

Since recent posts haven't seemed to generate much interest, I am going to hunker down and write more for myself. You are, of course, free to eavesdrop on the process.

Although Hartshorne always identified himself as Christian, it seems that many Christians suspect him of being a closet pantheist. Says here that he came in for criticism on a number of grounds, such as the assumption that "there is an objective or rational structure to the whole universe," and that "human thought can acquire accurate and adequate knowledge of the universe."

I certainly don't have a problem with that one, so long as we specify that our knowledge is always asymptotic, meaning that it ceaselessly approaches its own completion without ever acquiring it.

But more generally, being that man is in the image of the creator, this reflection must quintessentially include the intellect. It doesn't mean that we are "omniscient," only that the intellect is conformed to the nature of things. If it isn't, then we are excluded from truth.

I don't know if it is true that Hartshorne denies a first cause, but if he does, that is of course a cosmic non-starter (but easy enough to remedy).

He does make the controversial claim that God "needs" the creation, but he doesn't just come out and say it like that! He has his reasons, which we might just get to in this post. At this point I would just say that to truly love something or someone is to permit oneself to "need," and that to do this is "higher" and more noble than its opposite. For example, does the Father "need" the Son? Perhaps we wouldn't put it like that, but that doesn't mean the question is out of bounds.

Others complain about his "denial of divine foreknowledge and predestination to salvation." True. We'll also get back to that one.

The following is more problematic for me: his "highly optimistic view of humanity, and hence its lack of emphasis on human depravity, guilt and sin." In short, he is definitely a liberal, sometimes an obnoxiously clueless one (but I repeat myself). Having spent his life in academia, he does seem to have uncritically assimilated its narrow-minded ambient liberalism. And yet, aspects of his theology strike me as undeniably true, thus my desire to see if we can rescue him from himself and situate him in a more traditional context.

One thing that Hartshorne highlights is the "omnipathos" of God. This is a very useful word, because it means that, in addition to being all-knowing and all-powerful, he is all-feeling. Right there we see an interesting Trinity consisting of truth, love, and power, each conditioned by the other. More to the point, if we deny God's omnipathos, there is no way for him to meaningfully relate to us -- to put himself in our shoes. But isn't this what the Incarnation is all about?

Since I'm only writing for myself, I'm not going to go in any particular order. In The Divine Relativity -- speaking of omnipathos -- Hartshorne makes the intriguing point that God is not only the cause of all effects (which seems to take care of the First Cause), but also the effect of all causes. This would be the metaphysical/theoretical basis of his all-feeling omnipathos, as it means that he is supremely receptive to his own creation (or better, perpetual creativity).

This leads to one of Hartshorne's most controversial ideas, that God "changes." Quite simply, he changes because he is truly receptive to his creation -- hence also the "suffering with." Hartshorne believes that the emphasis on the notion of Unchanging Absolute -- as we've discussed in the past -- is a Greek import, not truly biblical (not to mention incoherent and ultimately absurd). In the Greek conception, time is completely devalued in favor of eternity. Time is change, and change is bad because it cannot disclose unchanging truth.

But there is change and there is change. For example, there is decadence, deterioration, corruption, degradation, dissolution, decline -- you know, Obama style change.

But there is also growth, development, maturation, perfection, etc. These are very different things. For Hartshorne, God possesses super-eminent relativity, meaning that his omnipathos is to our empathy as his omniscience is to our knowing. But it is certainly not to be thought of as a deficit. Rather, it is a kind of perfect attunement.

On a purely logical basis, how could God even have knowledge unless that knowledge is related to a known? No, we don't want to simply anthropomorphize him, but we shouldn't say that God has knowledge if we mean something totally different by the word. As Hartshorne writes, if

"the divine knowledge is purely absolute, hence involves no relation to things known, what analogy can it have to what is commonly meant by knowledge, which seems to be nothing without such a relation?" Yes, he is the cause of this world, but here again, what is a cause without an effect? To say that in God cause and effect are one is to simply deny cause and effect, and to enclose him in a static monad.

The same applies to free will. If being omnipotent -- all-powerful -- means that we have no power, then that ends the discussion. But if omnipotence is bound up with omniscience (bearing in mind that to know is to relate) and omnipathos, then this changes the equation.

As Hartshorne writes, "Power to cause someone to perform by his own choice an act precisely defined by the cause is meaningless." Again, if God's omnipotence excludes our limited potency, then he is as pointlessly enclosed in his own circuitous locution as any deconstructionist.

If we consider the creation, we see that it is woven of chance and necessity, of freedom and constraint, of boundary conditions and emergent phenomena, of order and surprise. Perhaps this tells us something about its creator. Too much order equates to absolute omnipotence in the traditional sense, but a world of pure chance is inconceivable.

Even leaving all the specifics to the side, life makes no sense without this oddly "perfect" cosmic complementarity of design and freedom (which I would say is the very essence of creativity). Furthermore, "the reality of chance is the very thing that makes providence significant," because otherwise any intervention by God is just necessity in disguise.

Running out of time here, but perhaps "maximizing relativity as well as absoluteness in God enables us to conceive him as supreme person." Unless by "personhood" we mean something totally alien to us.

For if God is "in all aspects absolute, then literally it is 'all the same' to him, a matter of utter indifference, whether we do this or do that, whether we live or die, whether we joy or suffer." In short, if this is "personal," then we aren't.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Temporal and Spatial Oneness

A few months back I read Hartshorne's The Divine Relativity, but never got around to discussing it in detail. In retracing my steps, I see that I touched on it on August 22. At the conclusion of the post it says "Well, I didn't have time to get nearly as deeply into this as I had wanted, but we'll take another plunge on Monday." Evidently, this is the promised Monday.

Let me first review what I said before, so as not to repeat myself...

One line stands out this morning, the reference to a "spontaneous interior knowing, which in turn implies a wavelike connectedness or unity of things." This latter is an important principle to which we will return, in that the wave of being renders possible the particle of knowledge. Or in other words, ontology is to epistemology as wave is to particle. Thus, we may know as we do because being is as it is.

Coincidentally, yesterday afternoon I was dipping into Meditations on the Tarot, and our Friend from Beyond the Grave says much the same thing. In Letter I, he discusses the attainment of practical and theoretical unity, the first consisting of the unity of the self -- i.e., concentration without effort -- the second to "the basic unity of the natural world, the human world and the divine world." To perceive the latter one must be the former:

"As concentration is the basis of every practical achievement, the tenet of the basic unity of the world is the same with regard to knowledge -- without it no knowledge is conceivable." In other words, in the absence of the prior unity, not only can we not know knowledge, but we can't even know of knowledge.

Thus, "The ideal -- or ultimate aim -- of all philosophy and all science is TRUTH. But 'truth' has no other meaning than that of the reduction of the plurality of phenomenon to an essential unity -- of facts to laws, laws to principles, of principles to essence or being."

Bottom line: "Without this unity nothing would be knowable." There would be no possibility of venturing from the known to the unknown, because there would be no link, no common ground, between the two. But in reality, there is always a bridge of being between them, analogous to how the continents of the earth are separated by oceans but connected underneath.

To say that "the world is knowable" is to implicitly affirm "the tenet of the essential unity of the world." And if we pursue the latter principle to its logical end, we understand that the world is not a "mosaic," or jumble of fundamentally disconnected parts, but rather, an organism, "all of whose parts are governed by the same principle."

Which leads directly to Alfred North Whitehead's organicism (AKA process philosophy) and to his most prominent acolyte, Hartshorne. Hartshorne was the first to systematically apply Whitehead's insights to theology.

As we have discussed in the past, where most philosophers "spatialize" the cosmos, for Whitehead, time is central. As a consequence, where others see things-in-isolation, Whitehead sees processes-in-relation. There is nothing in the cosmos that is not concretely related to everything else, at all times. Yes, we can think otherwise, but that is an abstraction from the concrete reality.

For example, we can look at a cloud in the sky and imagine it as a separate thing (indeed, it is difficult not to), and yet, it is simply the visible expression of the infinitely complex process we call "weather." We could say the same of "price" vis-a-vis economics. Hayek's central idea is that the price of the most basic item is full of information about the entire economy.

Unless the state -- the great destroyer of information -- gets involved. A market economy is a vast organism that processes an infinite amount of information. The "fatal conceit" of the statists is to pretend to control a process that is fundamentally impossible for any human -- or group of humans -- to understand. (Same problem with Darwinism, global warming, and scientism more generally.)

What we commonly call "science" presupposes the unity of the horizontal. Not only does it not study the vertical, it knows nothing of it (at least explicitly). For example, because of the unity of the horizontal, we know exactly where the earth will be in relation to the sun in one, one hundred, or one thousand years (assuming no hidden variables science has not yet discovered).

The unity of the vertical is known in a different manner, via the method of analogy. It too is an artifact of the unity of the world. The most consequential vertical analogy is between God and man. Such analogies are "timeless" where science necessarily operates in time.

Take, for example, the myth of Genesis. To reduce it to a scientific statement about the horizontal world is to fundamentally misunderstand it. Rather, it embodies a number of key "typological symbols," or prototypes and their relations. Such vertical archetypes "manifest themselves endlessly in history and in each individual biography." Although they are in time, they are not of time. But they do impress their patterns on time, which is why they must be expressed via myth.

The myth is the story of the prototype as it moves through time. Our BFF from Beyond the Grave compares them to the undulations left in the sand as a result of desert winds. The undulations are not the wind, only its visible effect. Likewise the archetypes, which are not seen but which nevertheless leave their imprint on our lives.

This is why it was so easy for us to "see" where Obama would end, way back in 2008. For as Joyce wrote, -- and this is the one lesson of Finnegans Wake, repeated endlessly in an infinite number of ways -- "if you are abcedminded to this claybook," then "what curios of signs in this allaphbed!" For "it is the same told of all." (Man is the curious claybook written with the archetypal ABCs.)

Change? "Modern man calls 'change' walking faster on the same path in the same direction" (Aphorisms of Don Colacho).

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