Monday, 30 September 2013

On being a Christian Fox

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"The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing" - Achilochus (680-645 BC).

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A hedgehog is a systematic thinker with one big idea to which all smaller ideas are related - most great intellectuals have been of this kind - and almost all Christian theologians.

I am of the other kind, a fox - who knows many things, but does not subordinate them to one big thing.

The distinction between hedgehog and fox was clarified and popularized by Isaiah Berlin (1909-1997), in a essay of that title:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Hedgehog_and_the_Fox

But, whatever the advantages of being a hedgehog, I am not one; not intellectually, and not in my life.

Even after becoming a Christian I remain a fox, and have gravitated towards the most fox-like theology I can find. 

Hence the aphoristic style of this blog - a sequence of detachable points, in a sequence of detachable mini-essays.

Combining them into one-big-thing is difficult, and a task for which I personally am unsuited.

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It is, indeed, the secret conviction of a fox that important things cannot always be combined, not without significant (maybe deadly) loss and distortion - and so we leave them either detached; or else placed contiguously: stitched edge-to-edge.

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Understanding free will

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I have always regarded free will as axiomatically real - in the sense that if you doubt free will then you doubt everything - but always had a problem in saying what it was, how it worked, how (in a world of cause and effects) anything could be free. 

When I became a Christian, at first this did not change. I was pleased to find that Thomas Aquinas firmly asserted the reality of free will, but was disappointed to discover that he did not elucidate it but simply regarded it as a gift from God.

I was happy with this until I began to discuss the matter with 'WmJas' on his blog 'Bugs to Fearen Babes Withal'. The thing about WmJas is that if he does not understand something, he does not pretend to understand it - and he could not understand my attempted Aquinas summary (probably because there isn't really anything to 'understand' - it is simply a set of doctrines set down next to each other).

WmJas shook my faith in the adequacy of the Aquinas approach. I began to think: it is all very well to say we have free will and why - but what is it that we have?

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The problem is that we generally talk and think as if everything has a cause, and every cause has a cause, and this leads to an infinite regress - so there is no space for free will to enter in to the causal chain.

My approach was then to ask where or what there is that that certainly does have free will?

The answer for secular materialists is - nothing. Free will is excluded by the assumptions.

But for Christians? God has free will for sure.

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God has free will because God is an uncaused cause.

In fact, that is one of the divine attributes - albeit not expressed in this kind of philosophical language; but people understand that God wants and chooses without being 'influenced' by anyone or anything - he is the primary origin of motivations and actions.

I found this helpful, indeed it made a big difference to know that free will entails the property of being an uncaused cause.

But then, if God has free will, do humans have free will?

We already know that answer to that; and the answer is yes, humans do have free will - because divine revelation (e.g. the Bible) tells us that humans must be able to choose, in and of and from themselves, because humans are again and again choosing God, or choosing to reject God.

In fact, Christianity does not make any sense as Christianity unless humans have real free will. The ability really to choose is absolutely at the core of it.

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So, since humans have free will - does that mean that everything alive also has free will?

No, only humans, and maybe a few other entities - but the point is that free will is not a universal property.

(Indeed it strikes me that a universe of universal free will would be a universe without causality - chaotic.)

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But how could it be that only God and humans have free will? That is a very important question - and the answer is not one likely to be universally agreed on. But the obvious inference seems to be that God and Man share free will because God and Man share 'divinity' - and free will is a divine attribute.

This is NOT to say God and Man are the same, that would be absurd and is false - but that, at least to this important extent, God and Man are of the same kind: they are both the kind of thing which have free will, are autonomous agents, sharing the capacity to originate action: both God and Man are uncaused causes.  

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My conclusion - Humans have free will for sure, and this is an essential component of Christianity, and the only other sure example of free will is God - thus free will is a divine attribute - something we share with God.

And this implies that humans, even as they are in mortal earthly life and in sin, are divine beings - since only divine beings are autonomous agents.

(For Aquinas, the need for an uncaused cause, and unmoved mover, is one of the strongest arguments for a god.)

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Does this analysis make a difference? To me it certainly does. I now feel I know what kind of thing free will is, what essential properties it has and what it means.

This description also clarifies why secular materialism (mainstream modern culture) cannot talk sense about free will - because they deny the divine and without the divine there can be no uncaused causes and  no space for free will - merely an infinite regress of causation.

It also clarifies that any Christians who deny free will, and the autonomy of human agency, are (to that extent) wrong - and it is also wrong to overemphasize the earthly and sinful nature of Man when the reality is that we are mixed beings who contain this divine attribute of free will - and (since this is a divine attribute, not a mortal contingency) this is true no matter how depraved we are.

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In other words, getting a clearer understanding of free will has led to a clearer understanding of much else - it has turned out to be a very important 'breakthrough' indeed!

(Thanks to the stubborn refusal of WmJas to acknowledge that my previous mode of understanding was adequate. The Socratic method, perhaps?) 

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Sunday, 29 September 2013

The temptation of Pride

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The sin of Pride is considered the worst sin from a Christian perspective - but it is hard for secular moderns (or indeed, those of other religions) to understand why Pride should be the worst thing (or even why it should be considered bad at all).

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Choosing not to obey God is a realistic possibility for humans - because we have free will - we are 'autonomous agents'.  

Therefore it is a perfectly coherent possibility to choose not to obey God, if the price of eternal misery is accepted. 

('Hell' can be regarded as the condition of those people who have chosen to reject God.) 

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This, indeed, is the particular temptation of Pride - it is tempting because we really can reject God and His creation. 

We puny humans really can do this - and the possibility of successful defiance in the face of incomprehensibly vast power may be intoxicating, may become the sole focus of life.

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But there is a cost.

The cost of defying God is to be dedicated to the opposite of creation - which is to be dedicated to destruction, lies, inversions of truth - and misery.

(In other words: dedicated to evil - which is the destruction of good.) 

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Why choose misery? Because the miserable Prideful soul rejoices in the fact that he stands against God - really can refuse to worship, love, obey, cooperate with God - really can refuse to bend the knee to God...

(The Prideful man sees love and harmony and worship of God as disgusting subservience, voluntary enslavement and abasement; cowering before power.)

To the damned, self-damned, soul - Pride in standing alone and unbowed against the creator of the universe, and malicious delight in all corruptions, failures and sufferings of creation, is more than sufficient compensation for eternal resentment, misery and isolation.


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And the impossibility of utter destruction of all good (since the evil man is himself created, hence partly good) is the source of that ineradicable resentment so characteristic of evil. Since souls are immortal, there is no escape from this resentment - for the Pride-consumed Man the very existence of his own soul is a source of permanent torment. 

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How do we know the self-damned Prideful man is wrong?

Because of love. If it wasn't because of love then perhaps there would be something to say for the defiance of Pride - but Pride is a rejection of the possibility of love. 

Pride is defeated, ultimately, by choosing to love God and his creation -  love is the reason to obey God, perhaps the only good reason.

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But to choose Love is a choice, a real choice. We could - instead - choose Pride. And this choice has vast and ramifying consequences.

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Saturday, 28 September 2013

Good Smut - the Threshing Machine

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The English word 'smut' refers to sexual innuendo - especially the comedy use of the double entendre or double meaning.

When this is done well it is extremely amusing, causative of tears of merriment - and to be done well the system of double meanings must be applied with something of the strictness of an allegory.

The following example is a personal favourite which used to be sung (in various versions) in the West Country of my youth - in a rustic dialect and to the well-known tune "Villikins and His Dinah".

Here is the tune (different words): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qOycdrSrqyQ

I have indeed performed it myself in public, in a duo calling ourselves The Muckspreaders: me playing the accordeon and joining the chorus and my friend Gareth singing raucously, smiting a tamourine, and thumping the floor with a thumb-stick.

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This is my recollection of the words, which I think came from The Yetties group.

Twere way down in Dorset or so I hear tell
There lived a young maiden and her name it were Nell
Now Nell she were pretty and just seventeen
When I showed her the works of me threshing machine
 

ChorusIyader, Iyader, Iyader IyayIyader, Iyader, Iyader Iyay 
Iyader, Iyader, Iyader Iyay
and I ups and I shows 'er the way

Twas one summer's morning in the merry month of May
When most of the farmers were out making hay
I cocked up me ear'oles and heard a girt scream
I says "Ah there goes Nell on thick threshing machine"

Chorus....
 

Twas one summer's evening in the merry month of June
When most of the farmers were lookin' at the moon
I said "come to the barn Nell where us won't be seen
And I'll show 'ee the works of me threshing machine"

Chorus....

I opened the barn door and there stood my dream
Er worked the oilcan whilst I worked up steam
Twere wondrous to see both the thrust and the drive
and when 'er come out 'twere more dead than alive

Chorus....

The flywheels and the pistons were a going around
When from the steam whistle came an 'orrible sound
I puts down me hand for to cut off the steam...
But the chaff had been blown from me threshing machine

Chorus....

Twas nine months later a baby she bore
And the pride of his Mother he was to be sure
Cos under his nappy could plainly be seen
 A bran' new two cylinder threshing machine.
 

Chorus.... 

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In this fine example of smut, the double meanings work almost perfectly ('more dead than alive' somewhat jumps ahead in the narrative, which then loops-back), with decent and smutty meanings mapping onto one another - and the last verse provides a decoding about what thrashing machine really means (or else, a surreal image!).

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Friday, 27 September 2013

Could worldwide declines in intelligence explain increased short-termism (such as extreme economic expropriation and ethnic cleansing)

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The best objective evidence, from long term comparison of simple reaction times, suggests that there has been a considerable decline in general intelligence 'g' in Britain over the past 150-200 years - approximately one standard deviation (or 15 IQ points) decline compared with present norms .

The most plausible explanations are some combination of

1. Differential fertility between those with high and low intelligence - such that intelligence is inversely correlated with fertility, hence with reproductive success.

2. A generation-by-generation accumulation of deleterious (intelligence-reducing) genetic mutations due to the major decline in neonatal and childhood mortality rates.

http://iqpersonalitygenius.blogspot.co.uk/search?q=reaction+times

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Probably the same factors apply elsewhere in the world. Observations of manyfold worldwide population growth differentially greatest in Africa and the Middle East, plus the same patterning of fertility by intelligence, suggest that significant declines in general intelligence would be expected across most of the world.

If so, this would have many effects - one of which might be an increase in short-termism; in technical terms, an increase in delay discounting: that is the tendency to choose a smaller but immediate reward over a delayed but larger reward.

It has been found in numerous studies that there is a significant inverse correlation between intelligence and delay discounting  - in other words the lower the intelligence, the greater the tendency to prefer more immediate but smaller rewards.


Delay discounting and intelligence: A meta-analysis
Noah A. Shamosh , Jeremy R. Gray
Volume 36, Issue 4, July–August 2008, Pages 289–305

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An increase in delay discounting is exactly what can be seen in several situations around the world - where stable long-term arrangements between different groups are breaking-down because the stronger group is no longer context to 'harvest' taxes and other benefits from the weaker groups over the long term; but instead the stronger group is expropriating the entire goods of the weaker group, now! - causing the weaker group to die or leave; or esle simply expelling/ killing them (e.g. 'ethnic, or religious, cleansing').

This is short-termist because it gains immediate benefit for some persons, but at the cost of rendering all parties worse-off in the longer term.

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If the obvious increase in worldwide short-termism is indeed substantially due to a significant global decline in intelligence, then this counts as very bad news, because nothing much can be done about it.

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Review of Lost in the Cosmos - by Walker Percy

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Walker Percy. Lost in the Cosmos: the last self-help book. 1983.

I read this book because Peter Kreeft said it was one of his absolute favourite modern books. Initially, I was bowled-over by it - because it is very clever, very skilful, contains a very large number of brilliant insights and predictions...

But...

But, it leaves a nasty taste - indeed, the more often I re-read it the less I like it; to the point that I have come to dislike it. Indeed, I would go so far as to say that the book does the opposite of what it was (presumably) intended to do.

I take it that Lost in the Cosmos was supposed to be a work of Roman Catholic Apologetics - written from a very modern, ironic, hard-nosed kind of perspective - and therefore, presumably, the more impressive when it finally homes-in on Christianity. (That is certainly how Kreeft reads it.)

However, the book is extremely reductive in the way that it so neatly seems to encapsulate people and situations in memorable (indeed hard-to-forget) vignettes of a few deft words (in a manner reminiscent - and this is significant - of Kurt Vonnegut).

These vignettes and character sketches work by putting Christianity onto a level with a range of other 'options' - they are often extremely sordid, disgusting and use foul language - so, in sum, they induce feelings such as alienation, meaninglessness, despair and the rest of it; in exactly the same manner as mainstream modern novels tend to.

I came away with the sense (fortunately temporary) that all possible life alternatives had in this book been pre-described, judged and found wanting.

The problem may be that the book is not what it purports to be, I mean that the book was actually wickedly-motivated (whether overtly or covertly); or that the pose of having written this 'objectively' leads inevitably to the negativity of its effect - since the implicit stance which purports to regard as options and evaluate the whole of human history and future and all religions (including Christianity) is simply a fake and non-existent position; therefore anything (supposedly) written from this f.&n.-e. position will necessarily end-up being bad in some way.

Which this book is - at least, it is bad for me

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Thursday, 26 September 2013

The worst brass section I have ever heard on a classical recording

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This is a curiosity!

Now, I have far from 'perfect pitch/ exact intonation' - but this LP is truly excruciating; reminding me of lunchtime concerts from (unauditioned, unrehearsed) orchestras of students

From Händel: Orchestral Works - Part 1/3 - Water Music

Recorded 1974 - La Grande Ecurie & La Chambre du Roy
conducted by JEAN-CLAUDE MALGOIRE
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zcOBbkVXbrM

Go to Part I: WATER MUSIC (Complete)
and then

VIII. Minuet (21:49)

to get the full flavour of the thing.

It is utterly incomprehensible to me how this recording was released  - but presumably there was an interesting story somewhere.

It may be that people were making (ahem) 'allowances' for the musicians playing on original instruments - presumably natural/ unvalved French Horns etc.

Or something...

(In the seventies I sat through a few rather similar debacles at live performances featuring natural trumpets - Bach concerti, Cantatas, Passions and the like. It was important to know the piece well, so as to understand what the musicians were 'getting at' - otherwise it sounded like Charles Ives on a bad day.) 

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Self-remembering as a preparation for prayer

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Like most people, I often find prayer difficult - here is a 'tip' I find useful.

As preparation for prayer, try to induce the state of self-remembering

http://charltonteaching.blogspot.co.uk/2013/01/self-remembering.html

That is, become aware of Me! Here! Now! - of yourself in the context of your surroundings, and time - this place, this moment of time - and of yourself as alive and aware and here at at the centre of it all, at this exact and unique moment.

(For me, this usually requires that my eyes be open.)

And then pray - give thanks.

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Anorexics must be regarded as fat

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It used to be believed that anorexics were deluded about their body mass - that although anorexics absolutely believed they were fat and needed to diet, that this belief was in fact a delusion, and that in reality anorexics were dangerously thin and needed to put on weight.

However, apparently, the US Supreme Court, the European Court of Human Rights, the United Nations, the Supreme Galactic Commander and (most importantly) a bunch of anorexic journalists in the elite mass media - have all decided that from now onwards anorexics are to be regarded as fat - because they are suffering people, who believe they are fat, and therefore to treat them otherwise would increase their suffering.

From now onwards, anorexics will be able to claim as a right all the privileges previously withheld from them by people of normal body mass - diet pills, membership of weight-watcher clubs, and extra-large clothes from those shops for obese people.

Any person who contradicts a skeletal anorexic when they claim to be 'gross' or in need of 'losing a few pounds' will be disciplined and sent for remedial therapy.

Anyone who now states or implies that anorexia is a delusion will be susceptible to an wide range range of penalties - ranging from manufactured international media hate campaigns to fines, sacking, prison.

Anyone who tries to 'treat' anorexia as if it were an illness will be thrown to specially trained packs of wild dogs...

Sorry, just a moment...  

News just coming-in. It seems that all of the above is made-up; none if it is true.

Yet.

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Wednesday, 25 September 2013

Are there any Liberal Christian 'martyrs' - for Christianity?

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At the foot of an earlier posting I wrote:

The reason why Liberals are all Leftists is because their Christianity is so weak - they do not feel sufficiently motivated by their supposed Christian beliefs - in fact their 'Christianity' is far too weak ever to win against the Leftism which is their true primary motivation.

This set me to thinking how to test this insight for validity. 

IF there were any Liberal Christians who had suffered some significant degree of martyrdom for their beliefs, then this would suggest that their Christian faith was strong. 

I could easily think of some Liberal Christians who had suffered for their beliefs to the extent of sacking, prison and even deaths; but on further reflection I realized that all the examples I could think of were actually related to politics, not religion. 

For example, being sacked for supporting Leftist rioters and revolutionaries, or for advocacy of the sexual revolution; prison in protest against Apartheid; people injured or killed when supplying material benefits such as food and medicine to impoverished people or countries... but then all of these are Left wing political causes.

What I could not think of was Liberal Christians who suffered for refusing to stop practicing their faith, for preaching the Gospel, for missionary work. 

Probably there are examples I don't know of - but the argument seems proven to the extent that it is very easy to think of Liberal Christian martyrs for Leftism; but difficult to think of Liberal Christians who have suffered for the Christian faith. 

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My Mormon/ Classical Theology ding-dong with Kristor

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This:

http://notionclubpapers.blogspot.co.uk/2013/09/how-does-artistic-subcreativity-square.html

is a five day, big-comment discussion I am having with Kristor; which started (briefly) being about Tolkien's concept of sub-creation in relation to God's creation, then soon got onto a major theological thrash-out of the Mormon concept of God contrasted with the Mainstream (Classical Philosophical) concept.

This stuff is a minority taste - but just in case anyone else might find this helpful, I flag it up here.

Kristor and I are e-mail penfriends from several years, and have a strong mutual respect - so things have stayed pretty civilized, so far. And if they do degenerate, it will not be Kristor's fault.

(On the other hand, if it is no-holds-barred fisticuffs you are looking for - then you may be disappointed!)

I intend to keep the Notion Club Papers blog discussion strictly between Kristor and Myself - but if anyone wants to comment, they are welcome to do so HERE (assuming I don't censor them...)

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Note - I am going to post here the whole ensuing discussion on this topic that I had with Kristor, for the record -it doesn't reach a conclusion, but it was an honest dialogue on both sides, so may have some value for some people.

How does artistic subcreativity square with God's creation?

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One of JRR Tolkien's deepest and most fertile ideas was that of subcreation, which he launched in the lecture/ essay On Fairy Stories.

The idea was that when an artist creates - especially when he creates an imaginative 'world' which has the quality of being real - he is acting in a God-like manner: honouring God's primary creative act.

I think Tolkien is correct; but the idea does come into conflict with the idea from Classical Philosophy and Theology that God's primary creative act is creation ex nihilo, or creation-from-nothing. Because such an act is completely different-in-kind form artistic creation, which is creation from pre-existing materials - creation from matter and proceeding according to the laws of nature.

So by this account artistic subcreation is actually nothing like God's creativity - it does not resemble it in the slightest degree.

However, if God's creativity is conceptualized in terms of the organization of pre-existing matter according to eternal laws - in other words the conceptualization for Mormon theology - then there is a very precise, and indeed theologically-significant - equivalence between artistic subcreation and divine creation.

And the truth of Tolkien's insight is clarified.

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Here is the heavyweight theological back-up:
http://maxwellinstitute.byu.edu/publications/review/?vol=17&num=2&id=590


52 comments:

Kristor said...
I don’t see the conflict of sub-creation with creatio ex nihilo. That creaturely acts are not *exactly like God’s acts in every respect* does not mean they are not at all like God’s acts. If sub-creation were not different than creation, it wouldn’t be sub-creation in the first place. It would be just creation, period full stop. And as each of us Creators, we would each be God.

Any doctrine that totally collapses the distinction between God and his creatures must be wrong, somehow.

In the linked article, Ostler goes on and on about how the world was created out of a pre-existent prime matter, rather than out of sheer nothingness. He’s right, but not in the way that he thinks. If “matter” means what he thinks it does – some sort of actual but formless stuff – then two questions immediately arise.

First, where did the prime stuff come from? What maintains it in being? If it is really prime, then isn’t it prior to God? If it is prior to God, then how can we say accurately that God is God? Is he not, in that case, really a rather secondary and derivative sort of thing? But if he is, then how does he have power to form the formless prime matter, which is prior to him, and greater?

Second, what is it? It has no form, so apparently it isn’t anything in particular. But then doesn’t this mean that it just isn’t anything at all? Doesn’t it just mean that it simply isn’t?

The whole dispute between Mormon and orthodox metaphysicians is an artifact of a gigantic misunderstanding, which is quickly cleared away by application of a really basic distinction of Aristotelian metaphysics: the distinction between merely formal existence, and actual existence.

It is not a difficult distinction. Right now, the possibility that I will get a haircut tomorrow, like the possibility that I will not, has a merely formal existence. The *form* of my getting a haircut tomorrow, the sheer possibility that such a thing might happen, has existed from all eternity. Not so for the actuality: as of right now, neither of those two possibilities has any actual existence. Tomorrow evening, however, one of those two possibilities will have been realized – will, that is to say, have been actualized – and will be an actuality, with a certain definite form.

Once you take this distinction on board, you can quickly and easily see that it is just nonsense to say that God created anything out of absolutely nothing, because that would mean that he had created something that could not possibly be created, by anyone. That’s nuts. If God was to have created the world, it had to have been always possible for God to have created the world. So, before there was any world, there was indeed something: there was God, of course, and there was also the possibility that God would create a world (and, also, all the sub-possibilities that come into play once there is a world).

Once you have grasped the distinction between merely formal existence and concrete, actual subsistence, it is easy to see that creatio ex nihilo of some creature x means creation out of a situation in which there is no actual x, but rather only the possibility that x might come to pass.

So the Mormons are right that creation did not occur in a situation of sheer nothingness; indeed, the very notion of sheer nothingness is incoherent. At Creation, there was God, and there was the Logos – God’s comprehension of the logical possibilities. But the Christians are right that creation occurred out of no creaturely actuality.

None of this is unorthodox. St. Augustine argued that the Platonic Forms are Ideas in the mind of God, which he has contemplated from all eternity, and some of which he has acted to bring into actual existence.

Bruce Charlton said...
@Kristor - This is not any kind of misunderstanding, but rather a difference in metaphysical assumptions. What you describe has an ultimate assumption of statis - when pressed t the infinite, whereas the Mormon metaphysics has has an assumption of change - when pressed to the infinite.

All your questions have perfectly clear answers - but from your different metaphysical assumptions, you do not accept the answers. e.g.

First, where did the prime stuff come from?

It was always there.

What maintains it in being?

It does not need to be maintained in being.

If it is really prime, then isn’t it prior to God?

Yes, or rather co-eternal.

If it is prior to God, then how can we say accurately that God is God?

Why not? - it is consistent with the anthropomorphic God as described in the Bible.

Is he not, in that case, really a rather secondary and derivative sort of thing?

No - He is eternal. (So are we).

But if he is, then how does he have power to form the formless prime matter, which is prior to him, and greater?

But surely Jesus is Jehovah - and this is what He did (I think)? Why is it any harder to imagine in the one case than the other?

Bruce Charlton said...
@Kristor - "That creaturely acts are not *exactly like God’s acts in every respect* does not mean they are not at all like God’s acts."

How could any two things be more different than creation from nothing, and creation by organization of pre-existing stuff?

"If sub-creation were not different than creation, it wouldn’t be sub-creation in the first place. It would be just creation, period full stop."

Well, that does not follow. Vast quantitative differences make things very unlike - like an amoeba and a blue whale, or a human fetus and Einstein (only VASTLY more so).

"And as each of us Creators, we would each be God."

Of the same order of being as God - yes (after all we are told we will become Sons of God and heirs - so we are not of a totally different kind) - but quantitatively VASTLY different.

"Any doctrine that totally collapses the distinction between God and his creatures must be wrong, somehow."

Totally collapses, yes of course - that would be wrong. But this is not a total collapse.

Kristor said...
"What you describe has an ultimate assumption of [stasis] - when pressed to the infinite, whereas the Mormon metaphysics has an assumption of change - when pressed to the infinite."

Both of those understandings of the ultimate are incoherent.

If the ultimate is static, then it is not dynamic, and there is no possibility of any motion or action, either Divine or creaturely; so that we don’t actually do any of the things that we seem to do or feel the things we feel, the things that we care about and of which our lives are constituted. It is this incoherence that provoked the reaction of the Mormon metaphysicians, I suppose; it certainly provoked the reaction of the Socinians and the Process theologians (including me).

We do indeed feel, and act; so reality cannot ultimately be static.

If on the other hand the ultimate is temporal change without beginning or end, then there are an infinite number of temporal events that preceded this present moment, and that would have to have been traversed in order for this present moment of our lives to come to pass. But it is straightforwardly obvious that an infinite number of steps cannot possibly be completed: no one, no one at all, can count to infinity. So if the number of temporal steps precedent to this present moment is infinite, then this present moment cannot have come to pass, and indeed cannot ever come to pass. And this is so for any such temporal step whatever, under the supposition that temporal change is ultimate. If the sequence of temporal events has no beginning, then none of its steps can have come to pass. This is clear even from the language we use to express the concept: “the sequence of temporal events has no beginning” means “the sequence of temporal steps is not begun.” It is as much as to say, “there is no world.”

There is a world; so time must have had a beginning.

Fortunately there is a way out of these dual incoherences, and lo, it happens to be the orthodox way. Orthodox doctrine is that eternity is dynamic. It is an event, an act, and a life. The best way I have found to express this admittedly very difficult notion, and to take it on board, is to say that the Eternal Act and the temporal acts of creatures are all, from the perspective of the Ultimate, Eternal One, occurring at once.

If eternity is dynamic, there is no conflict or contradiction between the Eternal Act of God and the temporal acts of creatures; if there were, then, God being prior to all other things whatsoever, there could be no such thing as temporal acts of creatures. But there are, obviously, creaturely acts. So temporal action is not in conflict with the Eternal Act in which it lives, moves, and has being.

This notion of eternity as dynamic resolves many of the theological and metaphysical conundra which must otherwise bedevil us. For example, it removes the difficulty of supposing that the Eternal One could also act in history, especially in the Incarnation. If eternity is dynamic, there is no problem with the temporal life of Jesus qua man being also the Eternal Act of God.

Now the curious thing to me is that the orthodox doctrine of eternity offers the Mormons plenty of ontological room for everything they like about their metaphysics. It allows for an unlimited number of cosmic orders, it allows for worlds to beget worlds, it allows for limitless numbers of creatures, any number of which might be divine or angelic. The *only* thing they have to give up under the orthodox doctrine of eternity is the notion that there is no beginning to anything, and that all things – physical stuff, God, angels, men, you name it – are co-eternal. In other words, the only thing they have to give up is the idea that God is not prior to all other things. Since that idea is a contradiction in terms, I should think it would have gained no traction with them in the first place. But it does.

The only reason I can think of why this should be so is that they have misunderstood the orthodox doctrine of eternity. No shame on them for that: everyone starts out poorly catechized.

Kristor said...
You suggest that the prime physical stuff was “always there,” and that “it does not need to be maintained in being.” This is to say that its existence is uncaused. It is to say that there is no reason for its existence. It is a brute fact, that cannot be explained or comprehended. NB: this is *exactly* what the secular materialists say of matter, and of the existence of the cosmos.

But to say that there is no reason for the existence of physical stuff is to suggest that it is exempt from the Principle of Sufficient Reason. It is to abandon thought, in respect to physics. For, it is to say that the stuff of the world is, ultimately, uncaused chaos – and what is ultimately chaotic must in the final analysis be chaotic through and through, so that what seems to us to be an intelligibly ordered cosmos is, really, not.

You suggest further that it is consistent to call our creator “God” if he is not prior to physical stuff. But “God” *just means* “the being that is prior to all other beings.” If our creator is not prior to physical stuff, then he is just one being among others, different from them – i.e., therefore, also from us – quantitatively, but not qualitatively. In no sense, then, is he the Lord of matter. He is then, rather, just a Really Big Guy, like Zeus or Thor, or Herakles; or Caesar Divus, or Boss Tweed. Or, of course, Lucifer.

Big men may be admirable, to be sure. They may even be venerable. But it is idolatry, a stark category error and a profound misprision of their essential nature, to worship one of them.

This problem has occurred to thinkers in all the polytheistic religions. All of them have solved the problem by suggesting that the millions of gods are, properly speaking, angels, created beings that derive their existence from the Ultimate One who is prior to all of them, and Eternal, and alone worthy of worship; so that the worship of, say, Vishnu or Krishna or Brahma is understood as a way or method of worshipping Brahman. The Israelites made the same move when they realized that the worship of their tribal angel YHWH was actually ipso facto worship of his Father, El Elyon, the Most High God: that YHWH and his Father were in fact the same subsistent actuality. Maybe Mormon thinkers have taken the same step, but their insistence that our creator is not prior to all other beings suggests otherwise.

Kristor said...
As to the difference between creation and re-arrangement of physical stuff, or sub-creation, you are right that if sub-creation is not different than creation, it does not follow that sub-creation would then just be creation; rather, this identity is true *by definition.* From x = y, the identity of x and y does not follow, it is simply stated. Likewise, [- (sub-creation ≠ creation) = (sub-creation = creation)]. “Sub-creation is not different than creation” is just a different way of saying that “sub-creation and creation are the same exact thing.”

They are not, of course. We agree that creation and re-arrangement are vastly different. I would suggest however that they are alike in that they both bring into existence a state of affairs x from a situation in which there is no x at all. Re-arrangement can bring x into being from a state of nothingness of x. When I tidy the house this Saturday, I will bring into being a state of affairs that has never yet existed: my tidy house this Saturday. In this sense, both creation and re-arrangement are de novo creations of actualities from a state in which they do not yet actually exist. This is just to say that sub-creation and creation are both acts, that move forms from potentiality to actuality.

Creation is like re-arrangement in that it brings into actuality a new state of affairs, that otherwise would have been merely possible: potentially actual, but not actually actual. It categorically differs from re-arrangement in that the state of affairs it brings into actuality is the state of affairs in which re-arrangement is made possible, by virtue of the fact that in that new state of affairs there exist actual things that can be re-arranged. Re-arrangement presupposes facticity of something or other, which is amenable to re-arrangement. Creation provides the basic facticity of creatures, who can thereby proceed to re-arrange creaturely facts. Without creation, nothing is made actual, and there is nothing to re-arrange. That’s why re-arrangement is called sub-creation.

Where we differ is that, with the Mormons, you suggest that creation is really nothing but re-arrangement writ large – that, i.e., re-arrangement is the only sort of creation there is. This is just exactly to say, as you have gone on to suggest, that creation and re-arrangement are *exactly the same procedure,* carried out at vastly different scales, in rather the way that the gravitational attraction of Mars to Sol is the same procedure as the gravitational attraction of an apple to Earth.

Notice that this makes our creator a re-arranger god, essentially no different from us. While he is a Bigger Guy than we are, he is still just a guy. I mean, he’s cool, and nice and all; but he’s just a guy.

Wouldn’t it be simpler and ultimately more satisfying, and indeed more thrilling, to leave God where Christianity and Israel have always seen him, in light inaccessible hid from our eyes? That wouldn’t prevent him from being also a builder from Nazareth, who enjoys sharing a nice al fresco breakfast of fried fish at the lakeshore with his friends. It wouldn’t prevent him from being our loving Father, our tribal god, our Shepherd. It wouldn’t prevent him being the King of Heaven and Captain of the Heavenly Host, daily met on the glittering pavements of the New Jerusalem by his saints and angels, and joining in their celebrations. It would mean only that there is a lot more to him than to any of the creaturely fathers or brothers there might ever be, howsoever noble or grand or divine. It would mean that, in addition to being our loving Father, Brother, Lord, and Bridegroom, he is also Being as such, the Principle and Principal of existence. It’s an altogether more capacious, spacious, audacious conception of our creator; yet it provides all the room we could wish for Divine anthropomorphism and friendship.

Bruce Charlton said...
@Kristor - I think you regard philosophy as primary and I don't. I regard it as a kind of unavoidable thing, useful sometimes, but misleading other times - especially if conceded mastery. Not something which should structure my ultimate comprehensions.

So the starting point of philosophy is not in philosophical categories or assumptions (such as that there are sequences of temporal events) but in intuitions (common sense) and revelations.

I don't see any problem in assuming that entities always existed - that is a primary assumption, built into me (presumably by God) hence irrefutable to me. You can try and refute it from some other (philosophical) assumption, but I don't accept the validity of your assumptions and procedures - why should I believe that philosophical assumption which is not validated by my heart?

And as for what kind of a thing God the Father is - surely the attributes of God you describe are cognitively far beyond the majority of the humans who have worshiped God.

Obviously, they think of God in anthropomorphic terms, and specifically (for Jews and Christians) as our Father - but of vastly greater power, glory, love and compassion.

This understanding does not encompass God the Father, and it knows it does not encompass God; but we can go some way along that extrapolation such that we understand enough, and we know the nature of God enough. More is not necessary. And more is not necessarily an improvement on this simple/ naive understanding - indeed I interpret the thrust of some of Jesus's teachings as being a warning against going too far beyond this extrapolative anthropomorphism.

When you mock this anthropomorphic concept of God the Father - I think this is a perilous thing to do. Such mockery and humiliation of simple faith is not new - it began in earnest in the 18th century and became mainstream in the 19th - and I think it has been a major contributor to modern apostasy.

Christianity just is simple enough for a child or a simpleton to comprehend fully - fully in the sense of 'at the highest spiritual level'. Part of this is the primacy of God as Father, hence primarily humanlike.

Kristor said...
Well, I definitely don’t take philosophy as primary. Revelation is primary. Theology is the handmaid of revelation; and philosophy is the handmaid of theology. The deliverances of revelation must simply be accepted, and worked with – obeyed, in the final analysis. It is in obedience that wisdom begins. As Jesus says, “If your will were to do the will of my Father, you would understand my teaching.” (John 7:17)

But this is very far from saying that we should not try to understand that teaching, despite the fact that our stubborn moral corruption might prevent us from perfection thereat. In that project, it behooves us always to think clearly (indeed, I cannot imagine a situation wherein it would behoove us to do otherwise)(this is so even for the acme of mystical ecstasy, which *just is* the perfection of the mind’s sight – of that ravishing Love of Wisdom Himself which is at once the completion of philosophy, and its transcendence). If we are not thinking clearly, and misconstrue who God is and what he is like, then we run a greater risk of obeying someone who is not God.

Clear thinking doesn’t require philosophical sophistication, but it does demand common sense. To my eye, the notion of an infinite sequence of temporally delimited events obviously fails to pass the test of plain common sense. Philosophy ain’t in it. Ditto for the notion of eternity as static. These ideas just don’t agree with life as lived. If they are true, then there can be no such thing as our lives. The difficulties these notions present to us are not difficult to apprehend.

Yet I admit that they both strongly appeal to us. I have felt the tug of both. I conclude that each of them partakes of some portion of truth. There is indeed a Many; there is indeed a One. Mormonism, the Socinians and the Process theologians are right that dynamism, action, life are inherent in the Ultimate, and that our participation in the Divine Life involves all creaturely becoming with eternity; Parmenides, Spinoza, Buddha and Krishna are right that all creaturely motions are ultimately One, complete, perfect, integral. The resolution of the Many and the One, of change and stillness, of dynamism and rest, may be found in the orthodox conception of God, in whom all worlds and times are found at once.

None of this is philosophical. It is mystical.

Kristor said...
Is the understanding of God beyond our cognitive powers? Of course. He’s God, after all. It would be easier for an ant to understand the life and thought of a quantum physicist than for us to understand God. Of *course* he is hard to comprehend. How could it be otherwise?

Yet, also, yes: he is simple, and has humbled himself to meet us where we are, and to tell us the Truth in terms we can any of us understand, and put to use. All we need to do is love him enough to say “yes” to him with all our being. Everything then will be delivered to us, in the fullness of time.

By no means did I mean to mock the idea of God as Father. Nor do I think that in fact I did. But, however, I did point out a glaring problem with the notion that our creator is a being of the same essential type as men – that he is, not God, but nothing more than one god among many, many others. If that is *all* our creator is, then yes indeed, he is nothing more than a Really Big Guy. That’s just what the doctrine is saying, right? I mean, if Divine Creation is nothing but a Really Big case of *exactly the same process* as what we engage in with our creative re-arrangements, then … our creator is not the God of our forefathers, but just a godling like Zeus. That’s a bit of a comedown, to put it mildly, from the empyrean heights of our Christian patrimony.

If on the contrary we say, with all the Saints and all the Fathers and all the whole Church (Protestant, Catholic, Orthodox, Nestorian, Coptic, etc.), that *in addition* to being a man like us, having taken on our Nature – and, therefore, beautifully and quite straightforwardly our Father, Brother, Teacher, Guide, Shepherd, Friend, Bridegroom, King, and Lord – our Creator is also the Ancient of Days, the Supra-Personal Godhead, the very Logos of all things visible and invisible, Being as such, the fount and origin of all that is – time, space, matter, energy, gods, angels, you name it – then we get a Creator who is both anthropos with whom we may sit down to dinner, and Deus who dwells in inapproachable Light, beyond and before and within all worlds. We get, not just a loving Father, but an *Omnipotent* loving Father. We get, not just a Friend and Comforter in our time of trial or need, but the sublime hope of the sainted mystic. We get a boon companion and guide who is He Than Whom No Greater Can Be Conceived.

The orthodox God includes the Mormon creator god. He is everything that the Mormon creator god is, and infinitely more.

Bruce Charlton said...
@Kristor - " if Divine Creation is nothing but a Really Big case of *exactly the same process* as what we engage in with our creative re-arrangements, then … our creator is not the God of our forefathers, but just a godling like Zeus."

The 'nothing but' invalidates what follows - nobody claims 'nothing but' - rather these are different ways of expressing something which it is acknowledged cannot be captured.

To use creation ex nihilo as an explanation is not to explain, because we have no experience or intuition of such things; but to stun ourselves with the incomprehensible - it is a black box 'explanation' - it functions to fill-in gaps in our understanding.

This is my main objection to Classical Theology. Not that it is wrong - because clearly it does not prevent extremely high levels of Christian spirituality, sanctity indeed - but that it commonly induces a spurious sense of intellectual superiority which erodes at the *vital* knowledge (vital for a Christian) that we are like God, God is like us; He is our Father and we his children; He is a God of love and so on - the Christian God just is an anthropomorphically conceptualized God.

All the rest of it hardly matters. I hate to think of the confusion (and pseudo understanding) which has resulted from harping upon incomprehensible metaphysics; and justified by the 'need' to make our concept of God so alien that there is no possibility of disrespecting Him. It just sounds like modern physics and it really does not help (most people - it does of course help a few people some of the time, and that is fine).

The Christian God is primarily a Fatherly God of Love (concern, compassion etc) - and that is (for most people - certainly for myself) threatened by extreme abstraction, and long discussion of His power and Glory in terms of physical processes.

If these extreme abstractions are made necessary, given priority - if the primarily anthropomorphic understanding of God is treated with condescension/ pity, or misrepresented as disrespectful, then the consequences can be seen.

Christianity is difficult to do, and very difficult to do well - but it was not supposed to be difficult to *understand*!

As for my contention that all metaphysics reduces either to statis or dynamism - I stand by it! One or other has priority, whatever the method of combination - and there is always a problem (an ineradicable problem, truth be told) about humanly understanding the relationship between the two.

Of course both concepts are false - but doing philosophy will result in one or the other - thus religions tend one way or the other with one pole having the 'change is an illusion' perspective; and the other focused upon change. Love/ compassion/ concern are all, of course, changes - thus Christianity properly ought to highlight change, or *foreground* it. For instance, we must *first* acknowledge sin, repent, be born again - all changes.

Pushed to the extreme change/ dynamism is just as nonsensical as statis - infinities of finite Gods and Universes are just as nonsensical as infinities of power, knowledge and presence in one God/universe - but it is a better kind of nonsense for (nearly all) Christians!

Kristor said...
Bruce, you quote me:

… if Divine Creation is nothing but a Really Big case of *exactly the same process* as what we engage in with our creative re-arrangements, then … our creator is not the God of our forefathers, but just a godling like Zeus.

Then you say:

The 'nothing but' invalidates what follows - nobody claims 'nothing but' - rather these are different ways of expressing something which it is acknowledged cannot be captured.

OK. If Divine Creation is *not* nothing but the same process we engage in with our creative re-arrangements, then there is something extra at work in Divine Creation of which – as you suggest is so with creatio ex nihilo – we have no experience or intuitive understanding. That something extra is *not* merely re-arrangement of pre-existing stuff – re-arrangement being a process with which we are very familiar, and feel we grasp quite well intuitively. If you want to call that something-extra-that-is-not-re-arrangement by some other term than “creatio ex nihilo,” that’s just fine. But it ought to be clear that we can’t have our cake and eat it too: we can’t say both that Divine Creation is just re-arrangement and that it is something different than mere re-arrangement.

You seem now to be saying the latter. If Divine Creation something different than mere re-arrangement, then God is more than a godling.

Ditto for the notion that God is nothing but the same type of being we are. If that’s so, then he is at most a godling, and nothing more. If God is something more or other than the same type of being we are, then he can be God, as well as a god.

God is certainly like us, or rather vice versa. This is standard Classical Theology, Imago Dei department. I don’t see this notion suffering any neglect in Christian discourse. Ditto for the notion that God is a loving Father, the Good Shepherd, and so forth. That sort of thing is more talked up among Christians than almost any other. Rightly! It’s astonishing Good News!

If anything, it is theological rigor and care that I see lacking. There is a great deal of mushy, muddle-headed sentimentality and bathos, and sloppy wishful thinking in popular Christianity, which if it is not constrained by dogma and discipline can lead to all sorts of grotesque errors that can ruin everlasting lives. Liberation theology, the Prosperity Gospel, Pelagianism, Unitarianism, Ebionism, Adoptionism, Legalism, Relativism, Arianism, Marcionism, Gnostic hatred of nature, matter and the body, the list goes on and on. Just this afternoon I heard an announcer at our local Catholic Radio station gushing that our Lady must be looking down on the success of their pledge drive and smiling in happiness.

The theology on all these questions has been quite thoroughly worked out for thousands of years now, so that the nature of these basic errors is quite well understood. It is pathetic to see them crop up again and again on account of sheer ignorance.

You write that “all metaphysics reduces either to statis or dynamism … Of course both concepts are false - but doing philosophy will result in one or the other.” Put in those terms, I agree. My arrival at the orthodox doctrine that eternity is a dynamic event is a vote against stasis. This does not prevent me from rejecting the notion that the physical stuff of our world has perdured through an infinite sequence of temporally delimited events!

Bruce Charlton said...
@Kristor - What you are doing, again in again, is making a 'move' which says that the real situation is more than can be captured in common sense - and THEN making that something-else-more into the Centre & Focus of theology.

So, the fact that creation of the universe is more than can be captured in common sense rearrangement of pre-existing matter is THEN taken to mean that creation ex nihilo becomes a fundamental axiom of what counts as valid theology (supposed lack of which leads to that list of heresies you made).

Or "Ditto for the notion that God is nothing but the same type of being we are. If that’s so, then he is at most a godling, and nothing more. If God is something more or other than the same type of being we are, then he can be God, as well as a god."

- What you are doing here is taking 'something more' (upon which we agree) THEN saying that 'something more' is in fact a specific set of attributes which are then defined, and claimed to be understandable; and THEN these 'something more' attributes are being claimed to be essential to the proper understanding of a real Christian.

Starting with an acknowledgement of the insufficiency of human concepts, somehow we have arrived at binding definitions of that which was originally acknowledged as beyond our ken!

We do not have to make this move. We can say (merely) that Godly creation is some kind of staggeringly amplified version of earthly creation - and we can leave it at that. We can say that we are made in the image of God, so He is fundamentally 'like' us (but staggeringly amplified) - and we can leave it at that.

We really do not have to pretend we know and can name that extra which we have already acknowledged we do NOT know. And certainly we can refrain from making this named-unknown into a kind of fetish which must be acknowledged for someone to count as a Christian.

To reject this kind of move is not sheer ignorance, it is a perfectly reasonable decision not to accept this move as necessary - which it isn't.

On the other side. a Christian cannot (CANNOT) say God is incomprehensible and leave it at that - we must comprehend God to a sufficient extent to know that he Loves us and cares for us, and what this means - and we do this (mostly) by the family metaphor - which is the primary Christian metaphor.

Philosophy should not be allowed to threaten this primary metaphor by abstraction and incomprehensibility.

"There is a great deal of mushy, muddle-headed sentimentality and bathos, and sloppy wishful thinking in popular Christianity, which if it is not constrained by dogma and discipline can lead to all sorts of grotesque errors that can ruin everlasting lives. "

Yes to the first part - naturally. But who says that constraining people by 'dogma and discipline' - to force them to acknowledge matters which which they cannot comprehend (and perhaps those who insist on them cannot comprehend - perhaps because they are incomprehensible) - actually *does* save their everlasting lives. Surely to say that is to assume what is being disputed?

If theological 'rigour' consists in forcing people to make assumptions which do not need to be made, and following them to incomprehensible conclusions, then insisting that they swear by these conclusions and make them the centre of their faith as a requirement of being considered Christian and eligible for salvation... well, then I reject rigour!

But surely true rigour is about getting the first step right, getting priorities right, getting the essentials right.

Philosophical abstractions, like creation ex nihilo, cannot be allowed to usurp the true essentials of Christianity - but they often do. And THAT, it seems to me, is the main problem (rather than naive anthropomorphism being the main problem - which is probably not a problem AT ALL - unless contaminated by wishful thinking).

Kristor said...
It seems to me that you are mistaken about what I am doing. You characterize it thus:

So, the fact that creation of the universe is more than can be captured in common sense rearrangement of pre-existing matter is THEN taken to mean that creation ex nihilo becomes a fundamental axiom of what counts as valid theology …

I do indeed think that creatio ex nihilo is the only coherent way to characterize Divine Creation, as distinct from creaturely sub-creation (not to *understand* or *explain it,* mind you – if only God can do something, then ipso facto only God can understand it – but just to characterize it). But all I actually said was:

If you want to call that something-extra-that-is-not-re-arrangement by some other term than “creatio ex nihilo,” that’s just fine. But it ought to be clear that we can’t have our cake and eat it too: we can’t say both that Divine Creation is just re-arrangement and that it is something different than mere re-arrangement.

See? I’m recusing myself from discussion of what the something-extra-that-is-not-re-arrangement might be. Call it anything you like, or nothing; call it a thumping great mystery. Doesn’t matter. All I was trying to do was nail down the notion that there is indeed that something-extra, so that Divine Creation must therefore be different than creaturely sub-creation.

Likewise, when I said:

Ditto for the notion that God is nothing but the same type of being we are. If that’s so, then he is at most a godling, and nothing more. If God is something more or other than the same type of being we are, then he can be God, as well as a god.

This said nothing about how it is exactly that God is categorically different from creatures. It was focused only on nailing down the notion that God is indeed somehow or other categorically different from creatures. If he is not categorically different than creatures, then, well, he is categorically a creature. That’s just what “God is not categorically different than creatures” *means.* To say, “God is not categorically different than creatures” is to say “God is a creature.” This is so plainly obvious, it might not even take common sense to see it. Compare: does the sentence, “Socrates is not categorically different than men,” mean the same thing as, “Socrates is a man”? Of course it does.

Now, it could of course be argued – as I understand Mormons do indeed argue – that the fact that God is not categorically different from men means that men can be Gods, just like him. I shall respond to that argument, not with logical demonstrations of its incoherence, but with revelation:

Thus saith the LORD the King of Israel, and his redeemer the LORD of hosts; I am the first, and I am the last; and beside me there is no God. – Isaiah 44:6

Bruce Charlton said...
@Kristor. You can have the last word. Oops - that's me having the last word...
Bruce Charlton said...
@Kristor - And another thing!...

Just one general comment. When you attribute to Mormons a certain view, then IF your attribution is correct this must have implications - which are in principle observable and testable.

If you believe that the Mormon conception of God the Father is of a 'mere godling' - and if you believe that this mere godling is a rather unimpressive, unimportant, feeble kind of character compared with the Mainstream Christian God - then this ought to lead to a very definite difference in the ways that Mormons behave wrt God.

So - your imputed understanding of God leads to *testable predictions* concerning the behaviour of Mormons wrt God.

And there are indeed differences in the way Mormon's relate to God the Father and other types of Christian - the question is what are these differences, and do they include a much lower level of respect, veneration or whatever you would predict would be the consequence of having a mere godling as the most powerful entity in existence.

But if - on investigation - these predictions are refuted; then there is probably something wrong with your understanding of how Mormons conceptualize God.

This is something you would need to do for yourself, and you would need to reach your own conclusions.

Kristor said...
Well, in the first place I am quite uncertain that my impressions of Mormon theology are correct. I am reacting to what I have read Mormons write about it, but I can’t say I have a good understanding of the whole system. Believe it or not, I am quite sympathetic to much of it – the emphasis on theosis, the intense interest in angels, their hierarchies and their heavens – I find all that stuff fascinating, as certain of the House of Israel of both dispensations have done.

You write:

… if you believe that this mere godling is a rather unimpressive, unimportant, feeble kind of character compared with the Mainstream Christian God - then this ought to lead to a very definite difference in the ways that Mormons behave wrt God.

Ought it, though? As I wrote in an earlier comment of this thread:

Big men may be admirable, to be sure. They may even be venerable. But it is idolatry, a stark category error and a profound misprision of their essential nature, to worship one of them.

This problem has occurred to thinkers in all the polytheistic religions. All of them have solved the problem by suggesting that the millions of gods are, properly speaking, angels, created beings that derive their existence from the Ultimate One who is prior to all of them, and Eternal, and alone worthy of worship; so that the worship of, say, Vishnu or Krishna or Brahma is understood as a way or method of worshipping Brahman. The Israelites made the same move when they realized that the worship of their tribal angel YHWH was actually ipso facto worship of his Father, El Elyon, the Most High God: that YHWH and his Father were in fact the same subsistent actuality.

If you have an intellectual notion that you are worshipping Zeus, but really – as God knows well, but you as yet may not – you are worshipping God, then it would be quite easy to see how you could in the first place experience quite sublime and genuine and truthful religious feelings, and in the second how you might mistakenly and honestly attribute them to Zeus, rather than to God. So are there righteous men living upright lives in every land, even those where Kali is worshipped.

Sublime religious experience is not confined to those who are completely educated in Catholic doctrine. Mystical ecstasy has been enjoyed by shamans, Taoists, Hebrew prophets, Sufis, and so forth. And by holy Catholic saints totally unschooled in theology!

Bruce Charlton said...
@Kristor - To say that a religion is idolatrous sounds like a pretty severe criticism, but then what you say in the last three paragraphs makes it sound like a distinction without a difference.

My main point here is that if Mormonism is making the big theological errors that you (and others) seem to suggest it is - then how come these supposed errors don't have the expected effects?

Or maybe you think they do, in some covert and unapparent way?

If Mormons are 'polytheists' then how come the religion looks so very very different from Greek, Roman or Hindu polytheism? Where are the shrines to the different gods, the invocations and prayers? Indeed, in terms of actual practice, Mormonism seems a lot less polytheistic than Catholicism (whether Eastern or Western).

If Mormons really are worshiping a mere godling, infinitely different from the Mainstream Christian God and of much lower status, then how come this supposedly mundane and lowly concept of God isn't apparent from behaviour in some clear and obvious way?

None of these matters are at all difficult to understand; it is all upfront, explicit, clearly stated on the official church material freely available at lds.org; IF Mormonism is approached with a positive, sympathetic attitude.

Mormon Christianity is indeed very different than Mainstream Christianity - qualitatively different - but the differences are of quite a different nature and consequence than those criticisms thrown against it - the differences are essentially metaphysical.

Mormonism has a completely different metaphysical basis from mainstream Christianity - while being wholly Christian. Mormon metaphysics is coherent, and it is not wrong in any significant empirical sense - but it is different, and the differences have important consequences of many kinds - and these are not arcane or inferred or hidden; but can easily be seen in the actual practices of devout and active Mormons and in the official teachings of the CJCLDS.

But to understand this, one has to perceive matters empathically, from the inside. There is no reason why you personally should have to do this, since you are not dissatisfied with your kind of Christianity if it ain't broke, don't try to fix it; on the other hand, unless you do you approach things in this empathic way, you will continue to misunderstand!

Kristor said...
Idolatry is indeed an extremely severe problem. It violates the First Commandment! Not only is it therefore inherently wrong, but it makes the attainment of salvation much, much harder for its adherents (that being why it is such a severe problem: missing out on everlasting joy by even a smidge is an infinite catastrophe). But not impossible. The only thing that makes salvation impossible is the sin against the Holy Spirit.

Righteousness (as distinct from salvation, which is available (thank Heaven) even to the sinner) is attainable, albeit incompletely, by the operation of the natural law. Our selves, our souls, our very bodies are built to respond properly to Nature, and to Nature’s God. When we respond improperly, it hurts. So just by paying close attention to what feels right, one can discover what is right, and do it. More or less.

So you can have righteous pagans, or atheists. It’s just that, as with salvation, righteousness is made much easier by right doctrine than wrong.

My impression is that most Mormons are indeed actually worshipping the God of Christianity – certainly this seems to be what they intend to do, and understand themselves as doing, and insist that they are doing. God sees their hearts. But their doctrine, at least insofar as I understand it, is in some important respects not Christian. E.g., their doctrine of the Trinity. So it cripples them, at least a bit.

Now, I don’t reach this conclusion because I dislike Mormons or Mormonism. Indeed, I rather like both of them. The Mormons I know impress me terribly, and as I said above I find much of Mormon thought quite appealing. So I am definitely open-minded and empathic toward Mormon theology. Mormon metaphysics, likewise.

I therefore conclude that Mormon theology is not Christian with real regret. The conclusion follows for me, inescapably, from the fact that the Mormon and Christian doctrines of God are quite different.

Bruce Charlton said...
@Kristor - My understanding of salvation is that it is ours unless we choose to reject it

http://charltonteaching.blogspot.co.uk/2013/02/an-evangelical-q-salvation-theosis.html

so, fine spun theological distinctions about the nature of God, the inter-relationship of the Holy Trinity are orthogonal to salvation (except insofar as they lead to pride/ hatred/ resentment etc - which would tend to lead to rejecting salvation).

What we are working-on in our mortal Christian lives is theosis, not salvation.

Kristor said...
But many, many people – even among the well-meaning, the upright, the good-hearted, and those who cry, “Lord, Lord!” – apparently choose to reject it. The greater their philosophical and theological error, the more likely this is. And this is not a fine spun distinction; even if it was, that would not mean it was unimportant, for a fine distinction that can make the difference between everlasting life and everlasting death is, without exaggeration, infinitely important.

If the Mormon God is not categorically different than we are, then he is *radically* unlike the Christian God. The difference between the two notions is exactly like the difference between an idol, made of silver and gold, the work of human hands (all who make them are like them), and God himself. Sure, it is metaphysically *possible* to be saved if you are an idolater, thanks to the Omnipotent Grace of God, but the greater the degree of your idolatry (or other error), the more difficult and unlikely it is. And given how prone we are to err and fall, this is not a trivial risk.

One has a shot at working on theosis only once one has accepted salvation. Salvation is the Redemption from Original Sin, and all personal sins, effected by our whole-hearted participation in the Atonement through baptism and the Eucharist. Theosis, or sanctification as it is called in the West, begins once one has passed the threshold of that Redemption. So the Atonement didn’t make us holy, it just opened to us the Way of Holiness. If we close that Way, through the Sin against the Holy Spirit, we don’t get to set out on it.

Bruce Charlton said...
@Kristor - Here we get near to the nub!

"But many, many people – even among the well-meaning, the upright, the good-hearted, and those who cry, “Lord, Lord!” – apparently choose to reject it. The greater their philosophical and theological error, the more likely this is."

I regard this as - not to put too fine a point on it - garbage! The idea that philosophical and theological error (or indeed 'error') is a major or significant cause of rejecting salvation seems to me ludicrously untrue - given that (to return to a key theme of mine) children and simple people always and inevitably have many and large philosophical errors.

The Good Thief was saved, in a moment - was his philosophy/ theology correct? To ask is to know the answer.

Indeed, I would regard what you said as itself a *huge* Christian error - and perhaps the most pernicious in the history of the Christian Church. It is the error which led to the stupid schisms and vicious persecutions such as the Monophysite and other schisms of the early church, still unhealed.

It is the error which regards Christian laity as primarily obedient - primarily submissive - people whose primary duty is to swear that they believe things they cannot possibly understand. But this is not Christianity - which must be chosen, and we must know what is being chosen, and this means what is chosen must be radically *simple*.

Your second paragraph made me sigh, because I thought we had dealt with that line of argument - clearly not.

My thesis depends on accepting that there is such a thing as Christianity, prior to the theological and philosophical representations of it - and that is mostly what we read in the Gospels (and the Old Testament): and that it is the acceptance of this which saves.

As you represent it, Christ is hardly good news, since salvation is so rare, fragile, intellectually and circumstantially dependent etc. This must be wrong - it goes against the whole spirit of the Gospels: good news, good news, GOOD news.

We are supposed to be happy, to rejoice - not to become cringe-ingly worried and submissive to incomprehensible ideological demands.

Now I know that you are not like this! But to insist on some precise and specific philosophical/ theological concept as a condition of salvation leads to it.

Kristor said...
Bruce: You write:

“The idea that philosophical and theological error (or indeed 'error') is a major or significant cause of rejecting salvation seems to me ludicrously untrue …”

Have you really never known anyone who rejected a caricature of the Christian faith? I certainly have. Most atheists fall into that category. They somehow pick up an egregiously inaccurate or twisted notion of Christian doctrine, and find it incredible, or childish, or risible, or incoherent (perhaps the most common puerile misconception about Christianity is that it posits a God who is like Zeus, nothing but a godling in the sky somewhere with a big beard, heaving thunderbolts, frying cities and parting oceans). Some such have told me that they were converted to faith on account of my writings, mirabile dictu – by learning from them what the Church actually teaches.

The popular understanding of Christianity – which is to say, the understanding of Christianity that people pick up as children, the child’s impression of Christianity – is almost always *wildly wrong.* And it is incredible. I can remember thinking at age 13 that there was clearly something going on in the spirituality department, but that the Christian faith as I then understood it – i.e., not at all (this, mind you, having had by then about 1,000 times more exposure to it than the normal child of our day) – had almost nothing to do with it. It seemed to me then that the Buddhists and the Hindus probably had it right, and I began my studies by reading them.

My experience since then convinces me that this path is extremely common among moderns.

Consider your own case. Would you say that your notions about Christian doctrine during your years of unbelief were adequate to an informed decision about whether or not it is true?

I don’t mean to suggest – I don’t believe I did suggest – that salvation *depends* upon right doctrine. Nor, of course, does right doctrine anywise earn salvation. All I mean to suggest is that salvation can be – “can be,” mind, not “always certainly is” – aborted by wrong doctrine.

And getting doctrine right is therefore important. Have you really never known someone who has fallen away from the faith upon his first serious encounter with some tricky point of doctrine or hard saying? Or who, on account of such an encounter, grew enamored of some heresy or apostasy that offered an easy resolution of the problem, rather than trying to find out what the Saints, the Doctors, and the Fathers have to say about it? “And some [seeds] fell among thorns; and the thorns sprung up, and choked them.” (Matthew 13:7)

That salvation is rare, or precious, or difficult does not mean it is not Good News. It’s not I who says salvation is tricky. Jesus says it (e.g.: Matthew 22:14; Matthew 7:14; Matthew 7:21; Mark10:25). The Good News is not that salvation is a piece of cake – “just have your heart in the right place and it’ll all work out” – but that thanks to the Atonement it is at all possible in the first place.

Conversion of the heart is essential, of course. Of course! Without it, there is nothing. But the First Great Commandment covers more than just the heart: “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.” (Matthew 22:37). If the mind is unbaptized, it can ruin the whole shooting match.

Bruce Charlton said...
Kristor - You ask if I have ever known someone/ anyone of these types - of course!

But then I am the one who is arguing the need for Christians to be able to have a variety of philosophical/ metaphysical views in oder to explain and elaborate their basic Christianity!

I am not arguing that Classical Theology is *wrong* - that would not make sense according to my model. I am arguing that it is unhelpful for most people - because radically incomprehensible, hence un-motivating.

To take your example of someone who supposed that the Christian God was "like Zeus, nothing but a godling in the sky somewhere with a big beard, heaving thunderbolts, frying cities and parting oceans)".

That, of course, is the Nobodaddy God that has been ridiculed among intellectuals since Victorian times - and which led to the abstract conceptions of Liberal Christianity - which instead of emphasizing that God is a person emphasize his properties and general tendencies.

Well, that answers the objection - but we know where it usually leads - to first feebleness of faith then to its loss. The great majority of people cannot comprehend, therefore cannot care about, an abstract God.

(Of course when the church has been strong and politically dominant, then matters can be arranged so that people are immersed in a Christian symbolic life, and despite their incomprehension of theology most people will focus on those parts of Christianity they do understand - Mary Mother of God and Saints. But this is not the situation now.)

In effect you are saying that when somebody has a simple and wrong anthropomorphic idea of God, the best strategy is usually to try and replace it with a complex and abstract concept of God.

I disagree. I think that the best strategy is to replace it with a simple and much-more-correct anthropomorphic idea of God - especially in a context which answers the main concerns (such as the problems of pain and suffering). This is the Mormon concept of God.

An old lifelong Roman Catholic friend made a comment a few years ago about a threat to faith from the pain and suffering in the world - already knowing all the philosophical arguments. I didn't know what to say, and said nothing - because what was needed was not a discourse but a very pithy couple of sentences to put matters in a different perspective.

If I had known my Mormon theology better at that time I think I could have made the proper response which is that God is is not an all powerful person who *chooses* not to alleviate suffering, but an all loving person who is not always *able* to alleviate suffering.

(It is the difference between being tortured with your Father in the same room. If the Father is all powerful he is choosing to allow you to be tortured. But if your Father is all loving he would *always* try to stop you being tortured - however sometimes he is prevented from saving you from this suffering. The first situation is unbearable since it implies your Father does NOT really love you; the second is understandable.)

That was the level and detail (and speed) of response that was *required* by the situation - any 'but it's more complex than that' strategy would have seemed like evasion - and this is the usual situation, I think.

We need better anthropomorphism, not the eliminations of anthropomorphism - for almost all humans, God is *primarily* anthropomorphic or he is (almost) nothing - nothing comprehensible hence powerfully motivating, at any rate.

Kristor said...
You will be glad to hear that I find almost nothing to disagree with in your last comment. Almost!

I agree that it makes sense to have on hand a few different metaphysical ways of approaching the Christian mysteries – or none! I myself came to classical Christian metaphysics by way of Process theology, which seemed at first far more congruent with reality. One just wants to be careful; some approaches lead quickly to the conclusion that Jesus is not God, or that God is not God, and either of those conclusions can then lead on to moral and spiritual conclusions that are extremely dangerous.

I agree also with what you say about the Problem of Evil. When we encounter evil in a pastoral situation, it can sound at best weak, and at worst monstrous, to mouth such placatory things as, “It’s all part of God’s Plan,” and the like. Even when they are technically true, they can horrify.

“We need better anthropomorphism.” Amen. A child who is fortunate enough to enjoy a proper catechesis ought to go through three stages of belief:

• God is anthropomorphic.
• God far transcends all our images.
• God far transcends all our images; and God is anthropomorphic.

Unfortunately, most catechesis stops at the first step. Then the catechumen encounters a difficulty, either in life or with his notions of God so far as he has taken them, and poof! Religion is out the window.

I don’t think I am saying that when someone has a wrong idea of God, the best strategy is to replace it with a complex and abstract concept of God. I am saying that wrong ideas about God can be dangerous. They needn’t be; but humans are so messed up that they often are. So it behooves us to be careful, and precise.

Specifically with respect to the Mormon conception of God, insofar as I understand it, it seems to me to be quite vulnerable to the same sort of challenge as Zeus or Odin: namely, that while these beings are terrifically powerful and anthropomorphic, they are not ultimate. The Christian God, on the other hand, is anthropomorphic *and ultimate.* With the Christian doctrine of God, you get all the nice, human, loving parts of the Mormon doctrine of God, but you also get ultimacy.

As to whether the God of classical Christian theology is incomprehensible to the average Joe, I would say no. It’s just that the doctrine is almost never properly explained. So almost no Christians understand it; and this is one reason why it is almost never properly explained. The doctrine is really rather simple, once you get clear on what a few terms mean.

Bruce Charlton said...
@Kristor - "Specifically with respect to the Mormon conception of God, insofar as I understand it, it seems to me to be quite vulnerable to the same sort of challenge as Zeus or Odin: namely, that while these beings are terrifically powerful and anthropomorphic, they are not ultimate. The Christian God, on the other hand, is anthropomorphic *and ultimate.* With the Christian doctrine of God, you get all the nice, human, loving parts of the Mormon doctrine of God, but you also get ultimacy."

wrt "While these beings are terrifically powerful and anthropomorphic, they are not ultimate" - this may be a misunderstanding. The Mormon concept of God is that He IS ULTIMATE but is not Omnipotent - in particular He cannot (and I mean CANNOT - not 'chooses not to) coerce the free will of men or Angels.

So God is so powerful that it is way beyond comprehension, but there are things God cannot do - and the most significant 'cannot' relates to Free Will.

Blake Ostler has expressed annoyance at the way people talk about the limited power of (the Mormon) God - since the power is so vast, and - this is important - there is nothing approaching the power of God in the knowable universe.

Logically/ qualitatively, this is distinct from the Mainstream Christian God of Classical theology - but quantitatively the Mormon concept of God is vast orders of magnitude more powerful than, say Zeus or Thor - such that it could (casually) be said that the Mormon-conceived God has infinite power (...but with some limitations).

The main value of this is that it solves the problem of evil and suffering; since a God of omnipotence is always, at bottom, choosing NOT to alleviate pain and suffering, in a way which deeply violates our sense of goodness.

wrt "The Christian God, on the other hand, is anthropomorphic *and ultimate.* With the Christian doctrine of God, you get all the nice, human, loving parts of the Mormon doctrine of God, but you also get ultimacy."

Well, do you, really?

Some people, and I think you are one of them, can think realistically about God in an abstract sense - probably as a bye-product of being able to think about Maths and Physics in a realistic sense. I can't (despite having a Grade-A A-Level in Physics, which was considerably higher than most Physics undergraduates at good universities).

And I know that not many people (much less than one percent) can think both abstractly and realistically.

If we cannot think about God realistically, then our depth of faith and motivation is weakened. In sum, I think the-vast-majority of Christians have *no option* but to regard God anthropomorphically (as primarily our Heavenly Father) - or else our faith will be too weak and imprecise.

And that means emphasizing Love above Power - as with any ideal earthly Father.

My distinct impression is that too many Mainstream Christians are more attached to God as primarily powerful, than to God as primarily loving (or, Liberal Christianss believe in God as primarily loving, but in a mushy, weakly abstract God - not a personage) - and that this refusal to talk strongly about a simple, anthropomorphic God of Love is... well BAD in lots of ways!

Kristor said...
OK, now you’ve got me confused. You’ve said such things as that the Mormon God is essentially the same sort of being as we are, that he is not prior to physical stuff, that his act is categorically no different than ours. All that is in line with my understanding (such as it is) of Mormon theology. But then now you are saying that the Mormon God is ultimate. Unless you’ve got some novel definition of “ultimate,” I don’t see how this can be so. If the Mormon God is not prior to all other things, then by definition he is not ultimate, but rather one creature among others: superlatively powerful, perhaps, but no more.

“Omnipotence” does not mean “the power to do anything whatsoever.” God is not able to do things that contradict his own Nature, for example: he can’t forget, or fail to know something. And he is not able to do things that are sheer nonsense, like creating a stone that he cannot lift, or making both x and –x true in exactly the same way; he can’t make it true that 1 ≠ 1.

Creating creatures that are free but that cannot err turns out to be one of those things that are sheer nonsense: that are contradictions in terms, like 1 ≠ 1. A being that is free to do only one thing – the Will of God – is not free, and cannot therefore perform any act that is its own. Thus it cannot exist (for, to be is to have acted so as to have actualized some potentiality). So, you can’t get a creature that is not free, any more than you can get a 1 that is not equal to 1.

So the notion that the Christian God is vulnerable to the Problem of Evil is based on a terminological misprision. Logically, there is no Problem of Evil.

This of course is cold comfort to those in the grip of suffering. Pastorally, one oughtn’t to go on to them about metaphysics, but rather emphasize that God does not want us to suffer, that he loves and suffers with us, and that his power to save and salve must certainly win out in the end, however difficult it might be for us in the meantime.

I think you are right that most people have a hard time treating with abstract concepts in any way that they can see makes a difference in their lives. This is why popular Christian discourse is dominated by talk about God as a loving Father, Jesus as our Friend and Shepherd, Mary as our Mother, the saints and angels, and so forth; and by practical advice about living the Christian life. Metaphysics and the Doctrine of God are almost never mentioned, *except* when people come up with questions – as, almost inevitably, they sooner or later do – especially about the Trinity, the Incarnation, the Atonement, and the Real Presence – and Evil. Many people naturally want to understand their faith; they want to know what they *mean* when they say the Creed. Fides quaerens intellectum: that’s the position of most believers.

With those who are faithless because of their metaphysical and theological misunderstanding, or poor catechesis, dealing with the metaphysical stuff is crucial. If you are evangelizing a man who thinks that the Christian notion that God is a man is just ridiculous, the Mormon God isn’t going to cut any ice with him either. For such a one, we must roll out the metaphysics and doctrine, and show him first what the Church actually teaches, and second how that teaching, rightly understood, can be reconciled with his own experience. In no other way will the skeptic’s mind be opened to the possibility that Christianity is true.

The Christian can begin, and end, with the simple conviction that God is his loving Father, and that his Son Jesus is a man. A whole life of Christian devotion, and indeed saintliness, can be lived with complete satisfaction in the light of this simple idea. But should questions arise, as so often happens, the Christian can turn to doctrines that answer them, and illumine the soul. And because the Christian doctrine is that God is indeed ultimate, there is in principle no question that it cannot answer, no dark corner of the mind that it cannot enlighten.

Bruce Charlton said...
@Kristor -

"But then now you are saying that the Mormon God is ultimate. Unless you’ve got some novel definition of “ultimate,” I don’t see how this can be so."

I am using ultimate in the common usage - like saying the Monarch is the ultimate power in the land; or the supreme court is the ultimate legal opinion etc.

"So the notion that the Christian God is vulnerable to the Problem of Evil is based on a terminological misprision. Logically, there is no Problem of Evil."

This isn't true - except at such an elevated level of abstraction that pain loses meaning. Otherwise pain is a big problem! I have explained this in my blog in various places which you have presumably read, and sometimes responded to but not been convinced by - so I won't repeat the arguments here. But I regard them as valid.

"If you are evangelizing a man who thinks that the Christian notion that God is a man is just ridiculous, the Mormon God isn’t going to cut any ice with him either."

That is why it is useful to have more than one denomination.

Kristor said...
If that’s how you are using “ultimate,” then we are indeed using it differently, and the Mormon God (at least as you have described him) is not metaphysically ultimate in the usual sense of that term, in which the Christian God is indeed metaphysically ultimate, as well as anthropomorphic (and, indeed, angelic): that than which no greater can be conceived.

We agree that pain is a big problem pastorally. When I say that there is no logical Problem of Evil, I mean that it is not a problem *in logic,* not that it is not a problem in people’s lives, and for people’s faith. It must be dealt with. Logically, it can be dealt with, definitively; so that as a philosophical stumbling block preventing belief, it can be eliminated. The logical elimination of the Problem of Evil can be apologetically useful. But in pastoral situations, metaphysical jawboning is simply inept. We agree that in such cases the emphasis must be laid on God’s lovingkindness, his Fatherhood, and on the certainty of his ultimate victory over pain.

I would say however that if on the basis of your present understanding of Mormon theology you had remarked to your suffering Roman Catholic friend that God is metaphysically powerless to prevent his suffering, that would hardly have been any more comforting to him than if I on the basis of my present understanding of Christian theology had made the same remark. When I was sojourning in the Valley of the Shadow of Death, I read Rabbi Kushner’s When Bad Things Happen to Good People. The social worker at the hospital gave it to me, to provide me a way of understanding what had befallen my family. Kushner’s argument is that the Creation is not finished, and so there are still pockets of mess and disorder. It’s basically the same argument as the ancient Near Eastern theodicy presented in Levenson’s Creation and the Persistence of Evil. It isn’t wrong. It agrees perfectly with orthodoxy, with my theodicy, and with Mormon theodicy. But it felt to me like a slap in the face. It was no comfort at all to hear that God is not potent to save and salve. What I needed to hear was that God is Almighty, and that while there is still a war on, in Heaven and on Earth, he cannot, cannot lose.

Bruce Charlton said...
@Kristor - Well, I do not want to argue on the basis that the Mormon view is always the most comforting stance for everybody.

" What I needed to hear was that God is Almighty, and that while there is still a war on, in Heaven and on Earth, he cannot, cannot lose."

This strikes me as double edged. An almighty (omnipotent) God could *always* diminish the degree of extreme suffering; and if He was almighty and loving - He would do so as would any loving Father.

That things will work out well overall and in the long term is neither here nor there (since Mormonism and Mainstream agree on that fact.) What we are talking about is here and now suffering; and why it can be so *extreme*.

The fact is God does NOT always diminish the degree of suffering to a bearable level - which either means He is omnipotent but does not love us as much as a good Earthly Father would - or else that He loves us wholly, but cannot *always* do anything sufficient to diminish here-and-now suffering

- although He can and will *always* heal us - and the world - of the ill effects of suffering, not immediately but in the longer term.

Kristor said...
"The fact is God does NOT always diminish the degree of suffering to a bearable level - which either means He is omnipotent but does not love us as much as a good Earthly Father would - or else that He loves us wholly, but cannot *always* do anything sufficient to diminish here-and-now suffering "


It's the latter. This is the orthodox position, anyway. God does what he can to alleviate suffering, but ha can't control creatures as if they were puppets - and creatures keep disobeying him. So suffering persists.

Bruce Charlton said...
Ladies and Gentlemen - We have CLOSURE!
Kristor said...
But we never disagreed about the proposition that God is not omnipotent simpliciter. As I wrote above, and like what I've said for years about theodicy:

"Creating creatures that are free but that cannot err turns out to be one of those things that are sheer nonsense: that are contradictions in terms, like 1 ≠ 1. A being that is free to do only one thing – the Will of God – is not free, and cannot therefore perform any act that is its own. Thus it cannot exist (for, to be is to have acted so as to have actualized some potentiality). So, you can’t get a creature that is not free, any more than you can get a 1 that is not equal to 1."

Wherr it seems to me that we have not reached closure is the main topic of this thread: whether God and man are beings of the same type. You say yes - right? - and I say no.

Bruce Charlton said...
@Kristor - Of course we still disagree in terms of the meaning of free will - of Man disobeying God.

Because a God who creates from nothing and sustains everything that exists does not leave any space for free will of Man - everything that happens is because God makes it happen. Such a God causes all suffering, because He causes everything.

Now this is the 'logical' position - but I am aware that space for real free will is created. by 'fiat' by Aquinas (for instance) simply by stating that free will is real, and given us by God. Somehow, in a way utterly incomprehensible and indeed contradictory - God does everything but human will is also free.

This does not make sense, and does not answer the concerns of the problem of pain - but it is fine for most purposes - and indeed greatly preferable to the kind of solution provided by Calvin and the like (which annihilates free will).

The important thing is to make sure that Christianity is always seen as chosen, and that entails free will; and that entails (somehow or another) subordinating philosophy to Christian revelation; which means accepting philosophical inconsistency (even incoherence) in details when this is made necessary by revelation.

Mormonism explicitly accepts that kind of philosophical incoherence in details, while Aquinas I think claims to have solved it but hasn't - but either way both have elements of incoherence - as is inevitable given that philosophy is a partial and biased view of life.

But it is a great advantage of Mormonism that it does NOT suffer the particular problem of explaining free will (hence suffering) which is so difficult an aspect of the Mainstream Christian position.

This does not make Classical Philosophy wrong and Mormon philosophy right - both are necessarily wrong in an ultimate sense - but Mormonism gets right some things which are very close to the primary core of Christianity (e.g. the primacy of love, the nature of our relation to God, knowledge of God, the nature and consequences of human freedom) while these are just the areas of greatest weakness for Classical Theology.

That Classical Theology is weakest where it most needs to be strong is why the emergence and rise of Mormonism was desirable, indeed necessary.

This fact is also consistent with the Mormon interpretation that Classical philosophy was wrongly given priority over Christian revelation - that Christianity was (in the post Apostolic era) fitted-into pre-existing Classical philosophy, with a permanently distorting effect on it.

It is in this sense that Mormonism is a genuine Restoration - going back behind the philosophy.

Bruce Charlton said...
@Kristor - "Wherr it seems to me that we have not reached closure is the main topic of this thread: whether God and man are beings of the same type. You say yes - right? - and I say no. "

Well, you would probably have to say a qualified Yes to this, if we went through the many Biblical promises that after death we will be transformed in some way that we will become, in some essential way, Sons of God and co-heirs with Christ.

In other words,we will become - in an essential way - essentially, vitally, fundamentally brothers and sisters with Christ - and Christ is divine; therefore we will become of the same order of being as God.

And therefore/ also since we know that Jesus was Jehovah, and what we know about God is (pretty much) what we know about Jehovah - we will (or rather *may*) become God.

The disagreement is about what this implies.

Mormonism takes the common sense view that a man could not become a Son of God and Brother of Christ (no matter how transformed) unless he started out as essentially the same order of being.

(e.g. Crudely, you cannot make an amoeba your Son and heir - only another human.)

The mainstream Christian view is probably that Man is qualitatively transformed into Son of God - and that the process could apply to anything; Mormonism focuses on the multiple Biblical statements that we know about God because He has said he is like us and we are like him - and that Christ becoming Man was not an incomprehensible fusion or coexistence of Divine and Human (expressible only by mystical paradox) but a much more comprehensible matter of one of the Trinity/ Godhead becoming incarnated as a mortal.

The thing is, any one of these distinctive Mormon ideas seems incomprehensible or wrong when looked at in isolation and evaluated from a Mainstream perspective - but they all fit-together (beautifully!) to make a coherent alternative 'back story' (philosophical explanation) to the primary reality of Christian revelation shared by all Christians (including Mormons).

Bruce Charlton said...
@Kristor - I forgot to mention another of the arguments which I - personally - find most convincing in relation to the fact that God is constrained not just by avoidance of the non-contradictory, and avoidance of violating free will - but by the nature of reality.

This is that I find I cannot satisfactorily understand the necessity of the *rigmarole* of mortal incarnate human life from a Christian perpsective UNLESS that this is the ONLY way that the desired results can be achieved.

And if it is the only way, then God is constrained by a reality external to Him.

I cannot understand how a (Classical theological) God capable of creation ex nihilo and who sustains every micro-moment of everything that happens could not achieve the same result as the business of mortal incarnate life but in a *much* simpler and safer manner.

From the fact of incarnate mortal existence, I infer that it is actually the only possibility - which I take it implies that God is constrained by pre-existent stuff (such as matter and laws of nature) - in other words, that God is inside the reality and reality is NOT inside God.

This is not contradicted by the Bible - since the Bible is an account of God working within reality. (And individual ambiguous verses cannot counteract this in-your-face aspect of the revelation as a whole and in many parts.)

In sum, and at my attainable level of understanding, we must conceptualize God as constrained by pre-existent reality on at least two grouds - moral (because that is the only way God can be wholly Good) and also in terms that mortal life (since it is so very far from self-validating) requires to be a *necessary* element in the plan of salvation.

Kristor said...
“… a God who creates from nothing and sustains everything that exists does not leave any space for free will of Man - everything that happens is because God makes it happen. Such a God causes all suffering, because He causes everything.”

But not so; absolutely not. I don’t know what you are talking about here, but it isn’t orthodox Christian doctrine.

From the fact that God is creator it does not *at all* follow that there is no room for creatures to do anything. God doesn’t decide everything that happens. To be sure, he causes becoming to become, and being to be; but while he certainly influences what becomes, very strongly, he does not completely determine it. If he did, then there would exist no creatures disparate from him, for all acts whatever would be wholly his, and he would be the only actuality. In that case, we would not exist to err, or to suffer.

To be, a thing must act. Its act must be somehow its very own. What does nothing, what has no effect, does not actually exist. Actual existence is the existence of an act.

Thus to argue that God determines every jot and tittle of everything that happens is to argue that there is no world, no creatures at all, and that nothing happens. It is to argue that God doesn’t do anything, either; for if he did, there would be creatures, and they would be free. Creation is *necessarily* the creation of free creatures. This is why the Divine fiat is ipso facto the gift of freedom.

All of this is perfectly orthodox. Classical theology definitely does not have a problem making room for creaturely freedom. On the contrary, creaturely freedom is the sine qua non of classical theology.

Kristor said...
It is simply false that philosophy is necessarily incoherent. The notion is self-devouring, for if it were true, then the philosophy that philosophy per se is incoherent would itself be incoherent. It simply cannot be that the universe which is the creation of an intelligent omnipotence is ultimately unintelligible, unintelligible all the way down; for that would be to say that God is unintelligent. Our understanding will always be partial, to be sure. But that is very far from saying that understanding is simply impossible from the get go, which is what the doctrine that philosophy is necessarily incoherent is saying; or that, therefore, it is necessary to accept an incoherent philosophy.

If your philosophy is anywise incoherent, you’ve gotten something wrong, and have more work to do. There is something you have not yet properly understood. That’s all. You may not ever understand it all the way, at least in this life. But you definitely can understand it. God says so.

God exists, and he is the Truth. This is revelation, directly from his lips. In Truth there can be no incoherence, contradiction or confusion: for God is Light, and in him is no darkness at all. If we can know him, as he himself said we can, then we can know Truth. To say that we can’t know Truth is to disagree with God.

Classical philosophy was not given priority over revelation. This is flat backwards. Revelation was used to interpret the terms of Greek philosophy, and transpose them to a higher key. St. John the Divine wrote his Gospel using Stoic terms; in saying that it is in God that we live, move, and have our being, St. Paul was quoting Epimenides of Crete. He was telling the Epicureans and Stoics of Athens what their philosophy actually meant! When he told them that we are God’s offspring, he was quoting both Aratus and Cleanthes.

Orthodoxy insists that God is a life, a dance. It insists, indeed it shouts from the rooftops, that God is love, that he loves us immeasurably despite our abuses of our freedom, and that he invites us to turn and join in his life. I honestly don’t get how you can’t see that it does this. It’s the very essence of the Good News, and the church is pouring it out all the time. John 3:16: what more is there to say about this? What more could possibly be said? I mean, how could one possibly intensify the message that God loved the world so much that he gave the life of his son, so as to rescue it from death to life everlasting with him?

Kristor said...
“Son of God” was a term denoting angels. The sons of God were not themselves God, but rather his messengers and servants. They were his sons by adoption. True, a man cannot adopt an amoeba. But for a man to adopt a boy, that boy must not be his natural son. They must share certain characteristics, true; so the Scriptures say that men and angels are made “in the image” of God. If men and angels were made God, the Scriptures would simply say that men and angels are God. But the Scriptures just don’t say that, except of one man, and one angel: the angel YHWH, who was the only natural son of El Elyon, God in the Highest, and who was incarnate in the man Jesus of Nazareth. The Scriptures say these things over and over again. And they are chock full of dire warnings about the grotesque and horrible error of mistaking an angel for God, or idolizing such a one. Check the Decalogue.

The reason the Hebrews were so incensed at Jesus is that he claimed to be, not an angel – this would not necessarily have been a blasphemous claim – but that he claimed to be YHWH, God the only begotten Son of God.

YHWH does not invite us to become God, for he says, “I am first and I am last, and beside me there is no God.” He invites us to become angels.

None of this is fancy-schmancy Greek philosophy. It is revelation.

Kristor said...
“I cannot understand how a (Classical theological) God capable of creation ex nihilo and who sustains every micro-moment of everything that happens could not achieve the same result as the business of mortal incarnate life but in a *much* simpler and safer manner.”

Simple. The God of classical theology does not completely determine every micro-moment of everything that happens. The notion is incoherent; it contradicts the fact that there is a world.


“From the fact of incarnate mortal existence, I infer that it is actually the only possibility - which I take it implies that God is constrained by pre-existent stuff (such as matter and laws of nature) - in other words, that God is inside the reality and reality is NOT inside God.”

God disagrees with you on that score: “In him we live, and move, and have our being.”

Bruce Charlton said...
@Kristor - "I don’t know what you are talking about here, but it isn’t orthodox Christian doctrine."

I am talking about what is *entailed* by orthodox Christian doctrine. Obviously people don't realize that what I have said is entailed by their doctrine of the nature of God - what I am saying is that when you say things like "From the fact that God is creator it does not *at all* follow that there is no room for creatures to do anything. God doesn’t decide everything that happens." then this does not make sense - it is just side-by-side assertions!

An omnipotent God of the kind I describe (which is how many theologians talk about God - I was thinking of John Polkinghorne when I wrote this) really is doing everything that is done. Just *saying* that nonetheless there is room for truly free creatures doesn't solve the problem that the opposite is entailed!

I know we agree that freedom is real - but are you prepared to go along with me in saying that God is *powerless* to affect human choice, that human choice is radically autonomous from God's will?

(In other words, it is not that God voluntarily holds-back from directing human choice, but that he cannot do so.)

If you are happy to say that, then we don't disagree.

Bruce Charlton said...
@Kristor - "It is simply false that philosophy is necessarily incoherent. "

No it is necessarily true, in that if The Truth is not identical-with 'Philosophy' (which you would agree) then philosophy cannot be The Truth, hence will necessarily be incoherent to some degree - including incoherent in the sense of incomplete (which is incoherent with the totality).

*

"Orthodoxy insists that God is a life, a dance. It insists, indeed it shouts from the rooftops, that God is love, "

Except when it is harping on the omnipotence, omniscience and omnipresence of God (and the rest of the omnis and infinites) when it pushes love (and free will) into the background; and far down its priorities for simple and clear explanation - and this is where the problems arise, because it should be the other way about.

Bruce Charlton said...
@Kristor - "“Son of God” was a term denoting angels."

Yes indeed, the question is *why* were angels described as Sons of God? Maybe because they are/ were Sons of God?

(If not it seems an awfully misleading metaphor.)

*

"God disagrees with you on that score: “In him we live, and move, and have our being.” "

That 'in' is not disagreement, that is a poetic truth - and it isn't philosophy.

Kristor said...
Well, of course any theologian who insists that God does absolutely everything is going to have an impossible time making room for creaturely freedom. Or creatures. I had not had the impression from Polkinghorne that he was of that opinion, but it has been several years since I read him, so perhaps he is. If so, he is mistaken.

Aquinas is definitely not of that opinion. He spends a great deal of time talking about secondary causation – the type effected by creatures. And so does the Church, which does not preach that it was God who Fell, but that it was Lucifer and his angels, and then Adam and Eve. I mean, where does any theologian say that it was God who Fell, and that Lucifer, Adam and Eve had *absolutely nothing to do with it*?

I am certainly not prepared to go along with you in saying that “God is *powerless* to affect human choice, that human choice is radically autonomous from God's will.” That would make God less powerful than Queen Elizabeth, indeed less powerful than the baker down at the corner, or indeed the fly buzzing at the window. On the contrary, God is more influential than any other thing at all.

It’s just that he does not wield absolutely all the power there is.

You seem to be stuck on the notion that there are two and only two possibilities: either God does *absolutely everything* (this being the doctrine that you wrongly impute to the Church and her Doctors), or he is *absolutely powerless* to influence his creatures (I very much doubt that the Mormon Church takes this position). Both these alternatives have absurd consequences. They can’t be true. So, they are both red herrings, and we should spend no more time discussing them.

Fortunately there are credible and coherent intermediate positions, such as that which the Church has taken: that God is the primary cause of creaturely existence, and that creatures are secondary causes. Under any such intermediate position, there is lots of ontological room for creaturely freedom.

Kristor said...
You are of course correct that no creaturely philosophy can cover the whole of the Truth. Only God can know the infinitely many things that he knows. But it simply does not follow that no philosophy can be coherent. This idea results from a confusion of completeness with coherence, or consistency as it is also called. No set of propositions can be complete, but many can be coherent. That, e.g., Euclidean geometry doesn’t cover Riemannian geometry or microbiology does not mean that it is false, or incoherent.

Say that you were right that philosophy per se is necessarily incoherent. If you were, then all your philosophical convictions of any sort whatsoever – Mormon, classical, musical, biological, political, you name it – would be incoherent. In that case, nothing you might say could possibly make sense. Everything you thought and said would be nonsense. And this would include the statement that “philosophy is necessarily incoherent.”

Wouldn’t it be safer, and more realistic, to say just that philosophical coherence is difficult to achieve, and leave it at that?

Kristor said...
“Orthodoxy insists that God is a life, a dance. It insists, indeed it shouts from the rooftops, that God is love,” except when it is harping on the omnipotence, omniscience and omnipresence of God (and the rest of the omnis and infinites) when it pushes love (and free will) into the background …”

Man, you must be going to some really great churches. In five decades of attendance at Church, the only people I have *ever* heard mention a metaphysical doctrine are Apostles, Saints, Doctors and Prophets (counting King David as one of the latter). And the Hymnodists. The preachers all go on and on about love and community; they talk of almost nothing else. This is the public face of the Church. Love, love, love, community, love, acceptance, redemption, salvation, love, love, love. No difficult or challenging or discouraging words, *ever.* And, almost never any *interesting* words, either. It’s all pabulum, all the time, aside from an occasional nod in the direction of sin and repentance.

Sure, if you seek out theologians, they’ll talk about lots of other aspects of theology, too (although most of them spend a great deal of time talking about love). What: are they never allowed to talk about metaphysics? How come Mormon theologians get to talk about high-falutin metaphysics, but Christians can’t?

Kristor said...
“… the question is *why* were angels described as Sons of God? Maybe because they are/were Sons of God? If not, it seems an awfully misleading metaphor.”

It isn’t a metaphor. The angels are the Sons of God. They are the *adopted* Sons of God. They are not God. Of the angels, only YHWH is God. If the Scripture had meant to say that all or some of the angels are God, it would not have made a point of saying, again and again and again, that only YHWH is God. But it just did.

Why is that so hard to accept? Why isn’t it enough for you to think that if you attain theosis you will be an angel, or something like? I mean, being like Gabriel or Michael would be *awesome.* Why then is it that you will be satisfied only if you can end up God? Doesn’t this remind you of Babel, at all? Of the Fall, when Adam and Eve and Lucifer went to set themselves up as God? Think. I beg you.

[“In him we live, and move, and have our being,” is not disagreement with my assertion that God is in the world, it] is a poetic truth - and it isn't philosophy.

Well, it is a quotation of an apologetical sermon delivered by an Apostle to an audience of Epicurean and Stoic philosophers, and quoting a famous Cretan philosopher. If that doesn’t qualify it as an argument in philosophy – never mind that it is expressed as homiletical poetry – I don’t know what would. Whether or not it does qualify as philosophy, it is the Word of God, is as you say true, and is furthermore quite a clear and unambiguous statement of doctrine.

Consider carefully, and prayerfully, what you are doing here, in dismissing this explicit Scriptural statement that you admit is true on account of the fact that it is poetry, because it disagrees with a metaphysical theory you have found appealing. Where the Word of God directly contradicts your theory that he is one creature among many, you wave it off. “It’s only poetic truth, not the real kind.” When the Word of God directly contradicts the notion that angels and men can be God – when, that is to say, God himself insists that such polytheism is false – you insist that he is mistaken.

Who is putting philosophy ahead of revelation? Not I. I keep quoting Scripture, and you keep dismissing it. Why?

Bruce Charlton said...
@Kristor - It is a shame, but I don't think I have made any headway in transmitting my different metaphysical understanding to you on these matters.

I suppose that, in principle, you could allow that Christianity might have different metaphysical understandings and yet remain Christian - but when it comes to discussing specific examples you do not allow that there may be legitimate differences - and that neither will be true nor false, each will have some pros and cons.

If we were to imagine Christianity coming into a world where there were two kinds of metaphysical philosophers - the 'static' ones who thought everything was one and stayed the same, the other are 'dynamic' metaphysicians and thought everything was different and continually changing.

Both are wrong (or, at least, over simplified) - but that doesn't change - people stick to those philosophies - one or the other, don't see any reason to change. (Maybe they are not intelligent enough to do original work in metaphysics).

As I say - Christianity comes into that world, and is adopted by everybody, is believed by everybody, individuals and society reach very high levels of Christian devoutness - but in different ways, corresponding somewhat to the metaphysical beliefs (maybe the static Christians produce mystics and the dynamic Christians have a higher average level of faith and good living).

In this case, when the metaphysical systems are both admittedly wrong - maybe you would agree that neither is intrinsically a barrier to 'being a Christian', neither prevents salvation, yet each has distinctive characteristics with pros and cons.

Now, that was then and somewhere else, but you argue that the situation in this world is different - that there is one true metaphysics and a variety of false ones. But even if you were correct, how much would this matter from a Christian perspective?

At best it would not matter except in terms of some metaphysical systems being better suited to some people and others to others; at worst there would be a quantitative advantage to adopting the true metaphysical systems - rather like the quantitative advantage of living in a Christian society instead of a hedonist materialist society.

Going back to the imaginary Static versus Dynamic society would it be a good or bad thing (from a Christian perspective) if one or another of the metaphysical groups denied that the opposition were not real Christians (because they had a different metaphysical system)? We know both are wrong (incomplete, over simple, flawed), and that good Christianity is compatible with both - so no, it would not be a good thing for them to fight over which is true and which is false.

They could, of course, discuss their differences - and this could be useful as showing the pros and cons - so that people who are not doing well in one metaphysical system could transfer to the other. But the discussion would be about pros and cons, helpful and unhelpful; and not about truth and error, salvation and damnation.

(continued)

Bruce Charlton said...
(continued)

Is this just relativism? Of course NOT. It is regarding metaphysics as subordinate to Christianity, as a pragmatic means to an objective end.

It is to recognize that a metaphysical system in its operations and influences is analogous to a human society - and that Christianity is for all types of human society. If there can be a variety of Christian human societies, and the possibility of some people moving to one that suits them better than another - then this is on the whole a good thing.

If different Christian societies acknowledge that the others are Christian, and regard them as having a different (but overall inferior) emphasis on the truth (the truth residing in the Christianity, not the metaphysics) - rather than assuming the other metaphysics are propagating lies and evil - that is on the whole a good thing.

And it would not be surprising if a metaphysics which worked well in some types of society at some points of history would find itself unsuited to other types of society at other times in history - and of a new metaphysics emerged that worked better (whether overall and for most people - or for some people in some situations) in new conditions.

That would be A GOOD THING, in my book!

Kristor said...
There is something in what you say here, to be sure. If a man is following the Summary of the Law, he can't go too far wrong, I suppose.

And Christianity could certainly operate in the context of divers metaphysical schools.

But not all metaphysical systems. You can't live a truly Christian life as an atheist, for example. And a metaphysical system in which YHWH is not ultimate, but just like you and me, cannot in the final analysis work as a basis for a genuinely Christian life, because it is polytheistic. The Christian life involves a total commitment to YHWH. But if polytheism is true, then YHWH is just one angel among many, and there is no particular reason, other than taste or family tradition, to follow him rather than, say, the Molech of Tyre, or Kali, who after all are angels, too. None of the cults of the various gods will be either true nor false, each will have some pros and cons. Some will work better in some historical and cultural situations, the others in other situations. It's all a question of pragmatic success. Nothing more.

You see the problem.

Kristor said...
Finally, let me say in closing - I do think we should now close this discussion, much as I have enjoyed and profited by it - that you don't need to worry about not having conveyed the alternative metaphysical system of Mormon theology to me. The problem is not that I don't understand what you have so far told me about Mormon metaphysics, but that so far as I can tell it is both logically incoherent and disagrees with the Word of God (these may turn out to be two ways of saying the same thing). Aside from that, it's great!
Bruce Charlton said...
@Kristor - "But not all metaphysical systems. You can't live a truly Christian life as an atheist, for example." Indeed, because it is a logical contradiction!

"And a metaphysical system in which YHWH is not ultimate, but just like you and me, cannot in the final analysis work as a basis for a genuinely Christian life, because it is polytheistic. "

Indeed, but the question is what 'ultimate' means and how to characterize YHWH. If YHWH is Jesus, then He is not 'ultimate' - because the Father stands above the Son.

I think Christians are foolish, foolish, foolish to focus on the topic of 'polytheism'; because to strict monotheists, of which there are a very large number in the world. Christianity just is polytheistic - and the Christian explanations about the trinity just sound like incomprehensible excuses for polytheism to non-Christian monotheists.

Christianity is what it is, and what it is is monotheistic to Christians and polytheistic to strict monotheists - Mormonism is the same mutatis mutandis wrt Mainstream Christianity - Mormons certainly see themselves as monotheists, and worship only the one God (ie the Godhead of Father, Son and Holy Ghost). There is zero visible sign of polytheism in Mormonism.

Meanwhile Catholics to all appearances worship the BVM, Saints and Angels (but say that they merely 'venerate' them) with separate shrines, prayers and specific devotions - objectively this looks far more like polytheism than does Mormonism. The difference is in the supposed metaphysical backup - but which is more important?

(I don't personally believe that Catholics are polytheists - I know they/we are monotheists! But polytheism is how it looks to some Protestants.)

Christianity is what it says in the Bible - whether someone calls this polytheism is an irrelevant, hazardous red herring.

But I am repeating myself...

"The Christian life involves a total commitment to YHWH. But if polytheism is true, then YHWH is just one angel among many, and there is no particular reason, other than taste or family tradition, to follow him rather than, say, the Molech of Tyre, or Kali, who after all are angels, too."

BUT God is our Heavenly Father, maker of Heaven and Earth etc - ruler of the Universe, Absolutely Good and so on. Does this not make Him worthy of worship?

You are trying to say that worship of God is entailed by the structure of reality, and not to worship him is irrational - but I am saying that worship of God is good, and not to worship Him is evil - but perfectly coherent and possible to choose, if the price of eternal misery is accepted.

This indeed is the particular temptation of Pride - that we really can reject God and His creation - and the cost is to be dedicated to the opposite of creation which is destruction, lies, inversions of truth - and misery. But the miserable Prideful soul rejoices in the fact that he can stand against God - really can refuse to worship, love, cooperate with God - really can refuse to bend the knee to God (the Prideful man sees love and harmony and worship of God as mere disgusting subservience, voluntary enslavement and abasement).

To the damned, self-damned, soul - Pride in standing alone and unbowed against the creator of the universe, and malicious delight in all corruptions failures and sufferings of creation, is more than sufficient compensation for eternal resentment, misery and isolation.

Bruce Charlton said...
@Kristor - OK - let's close. I have to say, you have not persuaded me that you do indeed understand Mormonism - in fact I am sure you do not!


You may well think the same about my understanding of Classical Theology - or perhaps that I used to understand it, but have lost my understanding due to confusions or sin.

But I don't even think I succeeded in getting across my problem with CT - which is not that it fails to assert the importance of free will, but that its ideas in relation to free will are merely a set of statements lined-up, and do not cohere: that saying there is real free will is not the same as having a place for free will, an understanding of what it is and how it works, in the metaphysical scheme. The metaphysics of CT has no place for free will, no coherent and comprehensible way of talking (in ordinary language) about how it works, therefore it is to that extent deficient.

Since this is a VITAL question for me, I am not satisfied with CT - and have shifted allegiance to a metaphysical system which properly explains free will. (and solves the problem of suffering, to boot!)