Saturday 17 November 2018

God and the Universe and Creation - two pictures

The mainstream Christian view is of God outside of everything to start with; and God, as it were, creating the Universe from nothing, inside of Himself. Time exists only within the created Universe. Men are wholly created by God within this Universe.

My view (which I got from Mormonism) is - to start with - God inside-of a chaotic Universe and 'in' Time; and Creation as a matter of God shaping the chaos around-Himself; in a progressive and cumulative fashion. Men, in a primordial form, are already-present in the original chaos, and are incrementally taken and shaped-into Children of God, inside of Creation. 

The mainstream view is a monism, because everything began as, and implicitly reduces to, the unity of God. My view is a type of pluralism (the term taken from William James); in which primary reality is of many and irreducible entities.

The mainstream God's problem is to Create anything that is not merely Himself - hence futile; the pluralist God's problem is that Creation is partial and on-going - an imperfect, developing work-in-progress.

The mainstream God's Goodness is perfect conformity with God; the pluralist God's Goodness is the process of creating.

The mainstream God's Universe does not need to be 'held-together' because He created it all from nothing as a unity; the pluralist God's dynamic, expanding, developing Universe is held-together by Love - and Love is a choice, voluntary; an opt-in kind of thing.

To opt-out from the mainstream God's Universe is irrational because there is nowhere else to go - in fact, there can be no real opting-out. But to opt-out from the pluralist God's universe is rational; since each person has a primordial independence - it is to opt-out from God's plan of creation into chaos; to opt-out from the cohesion of Love into the solitude of pride.

Indeed, it is a positive choice for each Child of God, to join-with God in the plan of living and creating within a dynamic, expanding, developing Universe.


Chiu ChunLing said...

It seems like you're confusing "irrational" with impossible.

To opt out from an ex nihilo Creation is impossible because there is nowhere else to go, and there is no possibility that the 'choice' is independent of God's determinative authority as Creator of everything about you.

To opt out from a Creation from chaos (or unformed matter) is possible, both in that there is an outside (whether or not anything much is there) and that the choice could arise from something about you God did not author.

But being possible doesn't mean that such a choice is rational. For a choice to be rational, there has to be a logical reason to believe that the result will be more desirable than the alternatives. The fact that some do not wish to remain subordinate to God does not imply that they will like being excluded from God's presence. They already liked that less than God, that is why they voluntarily entered Creation.

Unless God has shanghaied them against their will, which raises an entirely different problem.

The only people who could like going back out from Creation would be those who like God even better.

Bruce Charlton said...

@CCL - Saying... "To opt-out from the mainstream God's Universe is irrational because there is nowhere else to go - in fact, there can be no real opting-out."... I meant that such an argument is labelled by mainstream Christian theology as irrational, meaningless, because due to a failure to understand reality.

Tobias said...

Some thoughts.

In a pre-existent universe where a pre-existent God takes pre-existent men and women, and he begins to shape them into his children, one might ask,

1 why one particular pre-existent being should have the ‘god’ role, and the rest the ‘children’ roles?

2 If God and the rest of us existed in a chaotic universe subject to time, and the process of creation began at some point when some time had passed in the chaos, who/what if anything created the stuff of chaos, and the pre-existent beings, including God? To leave it as no-one, that the chaotic stuff just was always, and the ‘god’ was just always, and the other pre-existing creatures were just always, is not satisfactory intellectually or spiritually to me.

I pointed out to ‘Unknown’ a short while ago, that you were not referencing the gnostic Yaldabaoth, or demi-urge in your particular theology, but the way you have explained creation in this particular post, it does sound very like that.

If Mormon theology is as you describe, then I do see parallels with the gnostic Yaldabaoth theology. Not exactly the same, but similar, except that Gnosticism explains Yaldabaoth as a created being who is hidden within a cloud (chaos), and who goes on to create the universe entirely unaware that he is a created being, or emanation from a higher aspect of the Godhead. In this sense, gnosticism deals with the unsatisfactory (unsatisfactory to me) aspect of a theology that posits a pre-existent chaos subject to time that the ‘god’ finds himself in, and then starts to create.

I expect to find a beginning of stuff and of time, and a supreme being who began it. To me, a god who just finds himself in a pre-existing lot of stuff with squillions of other pre-existing beings is demoted to a lower order of being. He is less special, less appealing, and less deserving of my attention, or worship. By analogy, he is 'just one of the lads', and I would end up looking for his Father and Mother.

I prefer to stick with the traditional view of my God as supreme creator of everything, including the stuff of chaos and of time, and of every living thing, who gave us leave to go our own ways, or choose to align our ways with his ways. I have no problem with him being an 'always', who existed outside of time and then chose to make stuff and time in a thought, and chose to both stay out of time, and enter into time - it is the idea of a God who has different aspects who can do this thing. And the fact that I don't understand the how doesn't matter. He is above and beyond me, so how can I expect to know him all, and all his ways. Yes, he wants and hopes that we will become more like him, that is the theosis part. But I fully expect that there is a limit to that theosis - we will never become exactly similar to him. For example, I do not expect to become another 'god' who goes off and creates his own universe, but I would accept that God might want that I help him create his universe, in the sense that I might help a blacksmith to shoe a horse, by passing the nails. But God will always be God, and I will always be his creation, who eventually grew up.


Bruce Charlton said...

@Tobias - The basic answer is that this is metaphysics - so there is no answer to 'why?' questions. These are basic assumptions, and therefore there can be no answer to why - I use the phrase that some things 'just are'.

I think that the whole discourse about 'Gnosticism' is nonsense. I have read many thousands of words on the topic - and they just slide through my brain, because it is a fake category.

Gnosticism is just a term used to apply to some early Christian groups who were excluded from (or just left-out from) the mainstream historical Christian church. Some people dislike 'Gnostics' for that reason, others like them for that reason - but they aren't a coherent group, not self-identified, nor identified as a group at the time; nor do they have an 'essence'.

The idea that there is a gnostic heretical strain going through history up to now - and included in secualr politics (and evil tending) - is something I can't take at all seriously: a reification.

But if you put-on a pair of gnostic glasses you will, of course. see the world that way - but what possible positive use that will be I can't imagine.

Drawing parallels between this and that without understanding what is being critiqued is just name-calling. Mormon theology is a metaphysically distnct from of Christianity.

Being pluralist, there aren't any genuine deep similarities with what went before; indeed Mormonism came two generations before William James had even defined monism-pluralism as the single most fundamental philosophical distinction.

I can't argue for a different metaphysics for Christianity - I can just clarify the distinction; and implications.

I find extremely serious - intractable - problems about mainstream Christian theology in exactly those points that I regard as most important - so I am not happy with it; although until I understood Mormon theology I just made the best of it. Mormonism seems *a lot* better as a metaphysical system; and it feels intuitively true to me: fills me with joy.

Tobias said...

'I can't argue for a different metaphysics for Christianity - I can just clarify the distinction; and implications.'

'Mormonism seems *a lot* better as a metaphysical system; and it feels intuitively true to me: fills me with joy.'

So, what it boils down to is that we all must work out a personal metaphysical standpoint, on which we hang everything else? If you hold your view sincerely and it seems intuitively true, and I hold mine sincerely and it seems intuitively true, is that how we are to leave it? Can there ever be a shared knowledge, not through language or other sign systems, but directly where two human beings would both know reality, and know that each other knew it too?

Sometimes I find it interesting to go back and forth arguing a point, but most of the time I find it disappointing and upsetting that I cannot get a complete knowing with God and Man. This blog, and everywhere else I look, it is the same. Are we just supposed to keep trying? is that the task? Most of the time my increase and depth of knowing just creeps along at best, and stands still, and black blind, at worst.


Bruce Charlton said...

@Tobias - My understanding is that there can only be a shared understanding if there is one reality to which each person has direct access; this direct access is what may be termed intuition. Differences of opinion are therefore due to either failure to attain direct knowledge, or our own personal constraints such as limited ability or biases. Then there are costrainst on communicating the direct knowledge.

Differences in expressed understanding are therefore unsurprising!

Jared said...

This post, using what you referenced as William James' term 'pluralism', gives a meaning to God's creation as very deferential to what people want. It helps me understand the love of God. Thank you.
It just seems like more of a Father's love for His children kind of love than the monism you referenced, because there's that respect for something that was pre-existent rather than God making/destroying at His will.

Chiu ChunLing said...

To me, the essence of Gnosticism isn't that Yaldabaoth the Demiurge isn't absolutely categorically distinct from humans (and other created beings) but that he is clearly worse, that any mortal, given so much knowledge and power to Create, would have done a better job (or at least not a worse one).

I can think of examples (many, though by no means the majority of cases) of children looking to their grandparents (or other extended family) rather than to their own immediate parents for help and moral guidance in life. That tends to be a common theme, the implicit judgment of such seeking is that the parent is not merely only superior in life experience, accumulated resources, and knowledge of how to live, but is deeply morally inferior.

Even if I expected my 'Grand-God', who was God before God became God, to be a billionaire elder statesman compared to my God's status as a multi-millionaire respected craftsman, would I thus seek to denigrate that filial bond to pursue a "better" God unless I really believed my God to be deeply morally inferior?

Well...maybe I would if I could. Billionaire elder statesman Grand-God seems to be a bit too busy to pay much personal attention to me, though. Or just disapproves of my lack of filial affection.

I say that as someone who has never had any real difficulty knowing God much better than I know most other people, though. Including my mortal parents.

Then again, I accept that there was no "beginning". There are beginnings, always things are beginning, and others ending. If you go back far enough, there is a time when very little that we would find interesting or comprehensible was happening, and so you might find one event or another that was "the first thing to occur that actually seems like something beginning". But that would be subjective.

I have no problem with knowing that my God wasn't the first God while also accepting that no prior God was my God. Maybe they could have been, but just happened not to be. I certainly would have a problem if I felt that my God were a moral cesspool who should never have been allowed to become God. But I just don't feel that way (I do rather feel like my God is a sap, though, but that's not really a problem for me).

TheDoctorofOdoIsland said...

To me what matters is that God reveals himself to us as an active agent in human history, and he has formed individual relationships with each of us throughout time, and it is on the basis of these already existing relationships and the things God has done for us (and promises to do in the future) that we cultivate love towards God.

A hypothetical god who is "mightier" than any other god that can be conceived is just an idol. That position is fundamentally disinterested in the Gospel's message of a God who is love.

- Carter Craft

Bruce Charlton said...

@Carter - That's how I see it too.

Chiu ChunLing said...

I think that it is interesting that the accidental convergence of "idol" and "idle" should occur in English. Because really, idolatry is about idleness. We ask amiss that we may consume it on our lusts.

The idler desires a being that will make with the bread. But our Father demands that we grow up and learn to do as He did to become God, rather than remaining utterly dependent. Of course, we are helpless without God, and failing to recognize that is wrong because there is no more certain way to avoid learning how to do something than to fail to acknowledge that it is a thing that is done rather than occurring spontaneously of itself.

Might doesn't make right, right makes might. It is by the Creative power of actions to bring about intended/desired consequences that we know their morality. Every morally wrong act is the 'easy' that ends up leading to a bad result, it is not just arbitrarily decided to be 'wrong', it is in reality an incorrect answer to the question, "how do we achieve our desire, rather than frustrate it?"

Sitting about and dreaming big, rather than prudently assessing what actually must be done to bring about our desires, is a way to failure. In this life, we properly focus on what we must do now, not what grand things God should be doing for us in eternity. Not that God doesn't do those things, but God knows them much better than we can, and more importantly, God is the one doing them now, so there is actually a point to God thinking about them. What is the point for us other than to feed our conceit? Instead we should do the very simple things set for us to learn the very first basics of right action to fulfill rather than frustrate our real desires.

The big thing to learn, I think, is that what goes around comes around. We all live downstream of our past actions. People can accept that and get serious about figuring out what consequences their actions will have, or they can endlessly engage in futile schemes to evade natural justice. But you can't outrun the results of your own behavior forever, no matter how many innocent bystanders you try to thrown in the way. Some may do so for the span of their mortal lives, but what do they gain at the end of that?