Define God

GodThumbby John Sobert Sylvest
The term God often signifies a putative reality which many have spontaneously hypothesized through abductive inference, such as Charles Sanders Peirce, who referred to Ens Necessarium, such as Hans Kung, who referred, epistemologically, to primal ground, ontologically, to primal origin and being, cosmologically, to primal cause and support, axiologically, to primal meaning, teleologically, to primal goal, eschatologically, to primal destiny, or ology-du-jour, to whatever brute fact might stop an infinite regress of one’s root metaphor for primal reality.

It is worthy of note that making a vague reference to the reality of god in formulating an argument or hypothesis differs greatly from proceeding via premises in formal argumentation, which Peirce derided as a fetish. God, then, is not a syllogism and the term signifies a reality to which we hope to successfully refer even if we cannot aspire to successful description of same.

This is to suggest that natural theology or ontotheology might raise some interesting questions, demonstrating the rationality of our ultimate concerns, but we are telling untellable stories or proving too much if we pretend that it delivers any probabilistic answers.

What we do get, I suggest, are vague existential disjunctives between otherwise equiplausible posits, such as reality will, in the end, be found friendly or unfriendly, that all may or may not be well, that our ultimate concerns will finally be satisfied or frustrated. In other words, we must face theodicy issues and respond practically and existentially without theoretical and evidential justifications that are universally compelling.

Most discover the extrinsic rewards of truth, beauty, unity and goodness. Fewer discover the intrinsic rewards of these values. God hypotheses generally suggest that these existential orientations are, somehow, transcendental imperatives. Those who choose to live life in pursuit of these values and their intrinsic rewards are truly salt of the earth and light for the world, in solidarity and with compassion making the world a better place, whether justifying their stance philosophically, religiously or not. • (1377 views)

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10 Responses to Define God

  1. Kung Fu Zu says:

    Sir Humphrey Appleby comes to mind!

    • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

      Sir Humphrey Appleby comes to mind!

      Wonderful, you understand Brother John, as I like to call him. I’ve known John for probably ten years or more. He’s given me my primary education in philosophy and theology, although all the mistakes I make I count as my own.

      He is an extremely lucid man. But his writings on the subjects of religion and philosophy are often indistinguishable from Applebylonian gibberish. I get the same feeling when reading books on Thomistic metaphysics, and I have one in hand right now by Edward Feser titled “Aquinas: A Beginner’s Guide.” Beginner’s guide or not, I find much of it impenetrable. Is it gibberish or the equivalent of trying to read Feynman? I’m not always sure myself.

      John is a man who — despite his true genius-level intellect — implicitly espouses one of the prime virtues I had hoped to nurture here at StubbornThings, that there is much more to life than one’s intellectual prowess. And I say that with absolutely no desire to reduce or diminish the intellectual prowess that anyone may wish to display. However, I like that John’s first contribution here was a poem.

      John mentioned to me that he may spend little or no time actually commenting on his articles (assuming I can post another). Therefore I set myself up as the apologist and translator. And first of all I must apologize for my presumption. I have long badgered Brother John to make his religious and philosophical writings more user-friendly. And, in the background over the years, at least to me, he has often done so.

      But now I not only have a fraternal love for this man despite whatever flaws he or I have, I do so because of such flaws and accept him as he is — a wonderful force of nature, an espouser of the virtues of truth, beauty, and goodness. All my own writing I now understand as so much straw in the face of even one kind act. This is what John, in part, has taught me.

      As for his writings on religion and metaphysics, have at it. I you don’t understand something it could be that it is not very well written or that, which is often the case, it is packed up fairly tight like a suitcase stuffed with twice what it can hold. My own mind cannot hold those concepts packed together like that. I must unpack them, and often enjoy doing so. I hope some of you do as well.

  2. Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

    Speaking of God (and particularly of Atheistic Fundamentalists), there is a worthy article by Edward T. Oakes at national review titled A God of Materialism.

    This next bit intersects on something I mentioned the other day in my Random Thoughts article. And, I swear, I didn’t read this first, but I should have:

    Perhaps, as Hart himself at one point wistfully hopes, the disasters of atheist naturalism of the past century — social Darwinism, “scientific” racism, eugenics, Stalin’s efforts to create a New Soviet Man or Hitler’s to fashion a master race — have become spent forces. But having learned some lessons from the past, we must now content ourselves no longer with Marx’s dialectical materialism and his “scientific socialism” but with a science-besotted capitalism and the materialism of King Consumer:

    “Late modern society is principally concerned with purchasing things, in ever greater abundance and variety, and so has to strive to fabricate an ever greater number of desires to gratify, and to abolish as many limits and prohibitions upon desire as it can. Such a society is already implicitly atheist and so must slowly but relentlessly apply itself to the dissolution of transcendent values. It cannot allow ultimate goods to distract us from proximate goods. Our sacred writ is advertising, our piety is shopping, our highest devotion is private choice. God and the soul too often hinder the purely acquisitive longings upon which the market depends, and confront us with values that stand in stark rivalry to the only truly substantial value at the center of the social universe: the price tag.”

    And this next bit is truly extraordinary and would be a worthy addition to Mr. Kungs thread regarding Atheistic Fundamentalism”

    No wonder, then, that books by the New Atheists sell so well, and far more than can reasonably be expected of Hart’s book, superbly written as it is. Fans of his prose like to trade favorite passages, like boys with baseball cards, so I will conclude this review with my own choice:

    “So really it was only a matter of time before atheism slipped out of the enclosed gardens of academe and down from the vertiginous eyries of high cosmopolitan fashion and began expressing itself in crassly vulgar form. It was equally inevitable that, rather than boldly challenging the orthodoxies of its age, it would prove to be just one more anodyne item on sale in the shops and would be enthusiastically fêted by a vapid media culture not especially averse to the idea that there are no ultimate values, but only final prices. In a sense, the triviality of the movement is its chief virtue. It is a diverting alternative to thinking deeply. It is a narcotic. In our time, to strike a lapidary phrase, irreligion is the opiate of the bourgeoisie, the sigh of the oppressed ego, the heart of a world filled with tantalizing toys.”

    The charge of atheists toward Christians and Jews (they don’t seem to have as much, if any, grievance against Muslims, Hindus, or Buddhists) is that the religious impulse is an impulse to escape reality. I have often said, and contend still, that there is an element of truth to this. But, by and large, those who take up the Jewish or Christian faith place unto themselves far more burdens than joys, although the joys may be sublime, even eternal.

    But as this article suggests, it is atheists who actually are in the business of escaping reality. And I concur. And as a functional agnostic, I am clever enough to escape both, both the commitments of religion and the vacuousness of atheism. So I’m like one of those “no labels” centrists. I can have the conceit of being smarter than both. Well, not really, but I think there’s an awful lot of that going around as well.

    I hope someone picks up this new book by David Bentley Hart, The Experience of God: Being, Consciousness, Bliss and can do a review of it.

  3. Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

    One of the hermeneutics that Brother John operates out of is the idea of “beyond, but not without.” For instance, John might (and I speculate, simply using this as an example of the idea, not on what he specifically thinks on this subject) that evolution might indeed be true, that there is an aspect of man that is material and animal and contingent.

    But this truth in no way diminishes, contradicts, or prohibits mankind from being more. We may go beyond to a spiritual disposition, to moving beyond mere tribal orientations, to perhaps even beyond one’s own ego. But we still have those aspects in us, the animal, the ego, the tribal, etc.

    And conservatism itself is consistent with this idea, for it is a non-Utopian idea. It one in which we have aspirations but we dare not forget those lower layers.

    And John might say, and I speculate again, that sometimes it’s not a matter of labeling which layer is “best” or one as necessarily “lower.” In a one-hundred-floor skyscraper, the top floor may be closer to heaven. But every floor is dependent upon, and built upon, the floors below. This, again, occurs to me to be a very conservative notion, the idea that we will quickly become daft and destructive if we were to try to take any one of those one hundred floors and try to construct a complete philosophy out of it. Our desire for simplicity and completeness often tempts us to do so, but we should resist that temptation.

    Where, if I may be so bold to say, that I find Brother John’s hermeneutic a little weak is in regard to when we do need to stand firmly on one of those floors. Endless ecumenicalism can end up in a paralysis of ethics, not a clarification or just use of them. This may be an unwarranted and unfair quibble, but I must be honest about my own thoughts on the general subject.

    Anyway, to get back to direct things that John did say:

    What we do get, I suggest, are vague existential disjunctives between otherwise equiplausible posits, such as reality will, in the end, be found friendly or unfriendly, that all may or may not be well, that our ultimate concerns will finally be satisfied or frustrated. In other words, we must face theodicy issues and respond practically and existentially without theoretical and evidential justifications that are universally compelling.

    In other words, faith is a rational, if strictly non-scientific, means of engaging and navigating the world as we can know it. It might not be proven right, but it is far better than just howling at the moon.

  4. Kung Fu Zu says:

    “Endless ecumenicalism can end up in a paralysis of ethics, not a clarification or just use of them.”

    I find too much of this stuff is about as serious as Rodney King’s ejaculation, “can’t we all just get along?” i.e. childish and fundamentally detached from reality.

    Sometimes people have to agree to disagree.

    • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

      It’s a tricky business, Mr. Kung. Some of this is about laying aside differences that are trivial and thus distinguishing between the essential and the non-essential. Some of this is disagreeing about important things without going all Medieval on someone’s ass. But to erase all differences, which is the creed of the New Left (to their minds…they’re selective about what one is to be open to), is to be closed to the good and true.

      One of the fetishes of the David Brooks “centrist” types is the belief that most, or all, differences arise because of fundamentalist or dug-in beliefs on both sides. Thus the “centrist” (so wonderfully deconstructed in the openning pages of Jonah’s “The Tyranny of Cliches”) sets himself up to be the Solomon-like final arbitrator because he is supposedly not driven by such low-brow things as passion and a belief in absolute truth. His are the skills of the, well, of the John McCains who are anchored in very little but whatever is, at the moment, presentable to whatever is deemed “socially acceptable” among those he sees as the power brokers and opinion-makers.

      But in a sense, a central position (between the extremes of namby-pampby Kumbaya and hard-line zealousness) is a good place to be. I think this is where Reagan was. Unlike the myth now being created about the man, he wasn’t popular because he was all things to all people and just put a jovial face on it. He was popular because he believed in specific things and was against specific things, but went about espousing his ideas in a direct way, but often leavened by good humor and reasonableness.

      To me, this is a good model for us all. We must believe in something. But it is not just because of humility, but because of common decency (the desire to rise above the animal), that we must always carry reasonableness with us and a bit of good humor. Some, of course, miss this message entirely, or just take a selected part of it, and try to make good humor and amicability themselves their politics. That is vapid as well.

  5. Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

    Let me bounce a few thoughts of the actual title of this article, if not the specific substance of it.

    Perhaps I remain an agnostic because I haven’t had my Road-to-Damascus moment. But there is such a diversity of ideas out there about God that it’s not unreasonable to wonder if God is real but that our ideas of God have more to do with us than anything real.

    And we men, in particular, tend to treat God like another gadget that can be defined and made real through little more than logic or the unction of somewhat ADHD-like practices.

    I was reading the free sample section of a Kindle book that I had downloaded. I forget the name of the book. I erased it because it didn’t interest me further. But it was by a seemingly sincere guy who talked about how his life was changed when he came to a better understanding of god. This fellow talked about how he had been one of the most earnest prosthelytizers of the Good Book. In fact, he said he had gotten to the point where he could not get to sleep at night unless and until he got up and went out and found some stranger to preach to — even if it was one in the morning.

    And I was talking to a fellow the other day. He told me how he had found secret codes in the bible and how he had a much better understanding now because he understood the purpose of law, and how that had changed, and why the law itself set us up for failure and was meant to.

    And all this could be true as far as I know. But I’ve actually had people in my office telling me how they felt the shiver of the Holy spirit in them….even while they proceeded to make copies of anti-homosexual tracts on my office copier. (And maybe this is a good thing, but one wonders if one is completely consistent with the other.)

    I don’t mean to demean religious people, but is God real in any of this or is it just all us? Is it God being manifested or is it just our wants, needs, and psychology on display?

    And I think of the Buddhists and I have done some studying in that regard (years ago). And it occurs to me now that if you wanted to invent a narcissistic religion, you might choose Buddhism. Buddhism, it seems to me, is about escaping from reality while anointing oneself as among the “enlightened” people, all seemingly because one can memorize and regurgitate trite sayings of such obvious nonsense that such people would make even Mr. Appleby seem clear by comparison.

    This is one thing that the Catholics are not in error about. Suffering is not something to escape at all costs. Mother Teresa had more Godliness in her than some Buddhism monk whose point of life is escaping all suffering. Even most good conservatives understand that suffering is often good for the soul and molds a man or women into a sturdier and more noble character if he or she can also escape being malformed and twisted by those same forces. But those forces are inescapable.

    And I still come back to St. Francis. And it seems to me that this is a guy who “got” it. He had somewhat of a disdain for the intellectualization of God. He was in many ways the antithesis of his contemporary, St. Dominic. A larger view might say that both approaches have their place. And surely they do. And the place of intellectualism or ritualism is probably more toward the back of the bus.

    I’m not sure who or what God is. But I think one of the finest of all the Ten Commandments is the one that says not to take the Lord’s name in vain — which, according to the Jewish scholar, Dennis Prager, means not to misuse that name, either for self-aggrandizement or as prestige for one’s own quite worldly desires and power-plays.

    I think God is much like a shadow. As soon as we think we have captured him, he has moved on.

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