Saturday, February 04, 2023

Mythoverestimating the Divine Nature

I have this idea that is seemingly unpopular on all sides, but since I am who I am, I can’t can’t help having it, nor do I imagine I could be talked out of it, although I’m always open to a better idea. 

We’ve discussed it in the past -- the conception of God’s limited or qualified omnipotence, but it came up again the other day. It is fully optional, so I don't expect readers to agree with me. No one will be denied burial in Bismarck for thinking Bob has gone off the tracks in his own private railcar.   

Think of it as a vertical exercise in Pick Two:
Pick two, sometimes expressed as pick any two, is the principle that in many sets of three desirable qualities, those qualities will be somewhat mutually exclusive.
In this case the three qualities are Goodness, Intelligibility, and Omnipotence. You might say that if push comes to shove, I prefer a God who is intelligible and unqualifiedly good over one who is all-powerful. 

Moreover, we’re not talking about a total downgrade here, an insult to the divine majesty. Rather, God is still the most powerful being conceivable (and technically beyond-being and therefore beyond conception), limited only by unintelligibility or absurdity (i.e., self-contradiction).

Let me also say that the limitation on omnipotence actually implies the presence of quite positive qualities that could not otherwise exist. 

In particular, I am thinking of God’s ability to relate to us. I’ve heard all the arguments for the simultaneous existence of an unchangeable God and a God who is intimately related to us -- for example who suffers with us and responds to prayer -- but I find them to be tendentious and sophistical. Special pleading, all to preserve what amounts to a platonic conception of God, not necessarily a biblical one.

With my approach, you also avoid the silliness of imagining a God who intervenes, say, to save the life of a professional football player while looking the other way as thousands of less fortunate people are gunned down in Democrat run cities. If God is In Control and God has a Plan and all that, then the plan is not only totally unintelligible, but makes the person trying to sell it come off sounding like an idiot. Not to mention insensitive to the widespread suffering of others.

By the way, this is in no way to deny the existence of the category of the “miraculous,” but this will require a separate discussion that reframes it in the context of the Nature of Things. 

The short answer is the existence is a web of vertical and horizontal influences that is not so much unintelligible as excessively so. As such, we have to accept the fact that it’s complicated, instead of making the complexity go away by suggesting that every child who dies of cancer is just part of God’s plan.

No offense, but some plan. Again, my intention is to preserve Gods goodness while not totally sacrificing intelligibility.

Along these lines, I mentioned that a reader alerted me to an essay by Hans Jonas called The Concept of God after Auschwitz. I read a fair amount about the Holocaust, and every time I do, it is as if I am plunged into a world that is so evil that it is beyond comprehension. There is a limit to what one can truly imagine, such that I can read the words and understand their meaning, and yet, not wrap my mind around how a person could be so sadisically evil, let alone millions of them. 

The Holocaust is far from the only human atrocity that strains to the breaking point the conception of a God who is all-powerful and all-good. The briefest encounter with history reveals horrors that again defy imagination. All part of The Plan? It’s just impossible for me to believe this. But also impossible for me to believe that God doesn't exist, so here we are. 

Nor is this to say there is no plan. Far from it. There is indeed a plan, and the single factor that most interferes with the execution of this plan is called man -- especially me, not to mention you. 

But man is also the being who should act in accord with the plan and actualize it on earth, which places us in an awkward and ambiguous situation, since it is as if the disease is part of the cure, so to speak, or at least has to consent to and participate in it.

Consider a little vertical gedankenexperiment. Suppose the creator of the universe breaks the fourth wall of the historical drama and joins the cast herebelow. This is a mission of mercy that essentially involves saving man from both himself and his closest advisor, a diabolical presence of some sort. But instead of being warmly accepted by all and sundry, he is tortured and executed inside his own creation by his own creatures.

Wo. If this isn’t the strangest story ever told, then surely there could be no stranger. But we need to bear in mind that not only is reality stranger than we suppose, it is stranger than we can suppose, so the strangeness of this narrative is a point in its favor, not to mention other weird elements of the drama that we don’t have time to get into this morning.

Just getting started, so to be continued...

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