Thursday, 30 April 2015

Why we should not be too curious, or too definite, about the origins of God

It is vital for a Christian to known something of the nature of God - we need to know God's 'character' (i.e. that he is primarily loving); and know our relationship to Him (that He is our Father, we are His children); and that because we are made in His image it is legitimate to regard Him 'anthropomorphically' (God as Man-like, and Man as God-like).

However, I think common sense tells us that we cannot know about the origins of God, or the basic situation in which God is. We cannot know 'the universe', the reality in which God dwells. We cannot know this kind of thing, and we should not suppose that we do know this sort of thing.


Of course, we may entertain hypotheses on these matters - indeed we may not be able to help-ourselves, we may not be able to prevent ourselves from speculating. No harm done - maybe helpful.

But I feel that the lack of clear or detailed evidence from revelation (e.g. scripture), and the extreme difficulties of reasoning on these matters, is conclusive evidence that we are 'not meant', we are not intended, to make such metaphysical beliefs into a primary foundation of our Christian faith.


Therefore, I think that although we need to know (and love) God 'as a person' - to build Christianity around believed knowledge claims concerning the fundamental metaphysical abstract qualities of God is an error - can indeed become a type of sin.

We should not try to force an answer to these matters - this is neither necessary, nor is it likely to be helpful to Christian faith. (People may, and people have, overcome such obstacles - but that does not mean they have been helpful.) 


This is my strong objection to the standard approach of 'classical' Christian theology. I think Christianity made a serious mistake in its early centuries in establishing metaphysical assumptions about God at, or very near, the centre of the faith as unarguable, primary, non-optional dogmas.

I mean for example such beliefs as that God is necessarily omnipotent and omniscient; and that God existed and exists in a situation of nothingness (outside time and space) and created everything out of nothing.

It seems obvious common sense to me that we do not know these matters, and therefore that the extreme importance which they are sometimes given is potentially a serious problem.

We cannot know these matters, because God is the one thing that we must accept we cannot 'explain' - because to explain God is to try and explain what is first. Therefore we cannot reason from anything else about God; we cannot even safely reason; since to do so is to subject God to what may itself be a property of God.   

This should not be regarded as any kind of arbitrary constraint. There is no need or reason why we need to know where God came from, or exactly how he differs from us, or the precise scope of His powers and limitations, or the mechanism by which he created. To focus on these matters would be to miss the point of Christianity.


My position is not so much a denial of omnipotence/ omniscience/ creation ex nihilo etc. - as it is a denial that we really know (or need to know) such things. My position is not to claim that God must have limitations on knowledge or power and that He actually created from pre-existent stuff - more that these things might well be so, and are not refuted by scripture or reason.

The restored gospel or Mormonism should not, therefore, be seen as a set of symmetrical counter-claims to mainstream classical theology regarding the Omni-God and creation from nothing; rather Mormonism is a re-centring of Christianity away from these knowledge claims.

A re-centring of Christianity such that such matters are no longer at or near the centre of the faith; and instead a different focus on God conceptualized in a common sense and person-like, and Fatherly, and human-relational way - as being sufficient, less hazardous, more helpful, more accessible, more honest basis for the Christian faith and life - closer to the model of scripture including the teachings of Jesus.



Nicholas Fulford said...

The problem here is that we are intensely curious, and nothing draws a thinker more than to search deeper and further into an essential quandary. We do this scientifically, philosophically, and theologically. We do it in our personal relationships as well, since our knowledge of another person is an internally held map or image of the other person.

Experience helps us to cull the false from the real, but even so there is often resistance to giving up an image that no longer reasonably approximates who the other person is. That 'who' is an internal image of the other, and it has to have some degree of freedom to change. Even our own self-image is not strictly speaking real. (How often have I learned things about myself that I was really, really resistant to learning?)

Concerning projection: There is a self-referential quality that is unavoidable. It becomes like video-feedback - where you point a video camera at the monitor upon which it is displaying. Infinitely recursive and self-referential, it resembles nothing so much as a fractal, and the slightest motion causes wild and hypnotic gyrations of geometry in motion. Aesthetically it holds our attention, and the same thing happens when we try to imagine what is unimaginable, where we project upon infinity and watch the pretty feedback loops of our mind going through the same thing as video-feedback.

We are metastable - a becoming as much as a being. Nothing wrong with that, we mirror the universe in that regard. It fills life with a veritable Willy Wonka factory of mind-candy. The universe unfolds itself from some fundamental set of qualities that will always allure but also always be just outside our grasp. The mystery is enticing, infuriatingly frustrating sometimes, and a source of the most beautiful of states - awe and wonder. It is joyful journey without a destination, but it is a wondrous thing to experience.

I am privileged to be, and to be in such a way as that I perceive and experience this.

G. said...

Exactly right! I sometimes get annoyed with Mormons who treat our counter-creeds as the point. Seems to me they are falling into the trap you point out here.

ted said...

While I agree that classical Christianity and its theological expressions (i.e. Aquinas) can be dry and fail to implicate the person through a relationship with God, there are those of us who find that the intellect can be one of the gateways to him. This is why I find the Trinity so comprehensive, as it allows us to move through Christ in the Holy Spirit to the Father, in a kind of sweeping metacosmic movement that feeds the body, mind, and spirit.

MtTopPatriot said...

Oh that is simple Mr. Bruce, there is no figuring, that is the fun and wonderful part, it is where savings grace and its modest partner humility come from. God is.

There was a moment in history not long ago where many brilliant minds where attempting to discern the nature and origins, the very root, the crux of the universe, quantum mechanics and a unifying theory mostly, and the answers stumped these minds. I remember one fellow said that he and some of his fellow physicists had come to the conclusion that in order to understand they discovered they had to accept there where no theoretical theory answers, and God created all this and that was the answers really, it was the grand unifying theory.
I learned a lot from that. I think it is faith that matters most. Faith in something larger, and grander, than just myself. There is sublime satisfaction and comfort in that. Strength and a certain kind of audacity too. And in being so, the veils and uncertainties in life are easily penetrated and truth is easy to discover.
Maybe that is why you are able to understand and write the things you do.

David said...

Apparently God had once been a man and progressed to become God following a mortal life. This certainly is new to me but I have just discovered it was a revelation received and acknowledged within lds church at a high level. If this is true then it casts a totally different perspective on the origin of God that finishes with a 'tortoises all the way down' infinite regress/until the unmoved mover. Following the trail of reasoning if God was a man once, he had parents, who had parents, and so on and so forth until the 'original parents' who presumably are deities independently of 'our' deity or 'heavenly father' as we know him. It then almost seems like a pantheistic or 'Cosmic family' set-up which is quite appealing and almost seems like Science Fiction at its best. My comments are mere speculation of course but the source surprises me and I find it intensely interesting to contemplate:

I presume you knew of this already Bruce? Or of other sources on same topic

Bruce Charlton said...

@David - the main source is the King Follett discourse

but this is not canonical in the LDS (taken seriously but not regarded as scripture), not a required belief - and serious Mormons have various views as to the origin of God.

The Follett sermon may have been Joseph speculating, thinking aloud, as he liked to do and did. President Snow's revelation is significant, and influential but not canonical.

I personally try not to have infinities/ infinite regresses in my thinking, because I cannot make sense of them and they make my mind seize-up.

So I regard God the Father as 'always' having been in existence, and having always had His principal attributes. For me, the explanations stop at that point.

But I can certainly feel and respond to the visionary aspects of this explanation! and it is certainly a valid way of thinking about it - but I would regard it as one valid way for understanding something which is not known for sure, and may not be understandable to our minds as they are in mortal life.