Monday 30 September 2019

What is God?

Different people mean (very) different things; but tend to assume their own belief is self evident.

For example: “God is a metaphor for that which transcends all levels of intellectual thought. It's as simple as that.” ― Joseph Campbell.

Well, that definition has essentially nothing to do with how I define God, which on the lines of the being/s who created the ordered universe. Of course, any brief definition immediately cries out for further definitions of such terms as 'being', 'create' and 'the universe'.

But the point is that when discussing God I am focused on creation as that-which-was-created by a personal God. I am not talking about everything that is - but that which is created.

I am not talking about God being ultimately physics-y concepts such as forces, tendencies, forms or the like - nor attributes such as infinities, omnis, mysticals, transcendences etc; but I am talking about a being or beings - living, conscious, personal.

I am perfectly aware that many or most other people have a completely different way of talking about God than mine - of which "that which transcends all levels of intellectual thought" is an example. But - what can I say? That is not what I mean by God, that is not what I regard as the ultimate metaphysical assumption - the ultimate basis...

There is not much point in arguing about such ultimate assumptions. I regard God as a person, another regard this is childish and regads God as an abstraction. What could decide - except to locate one's assumptions and then tease-out the consequences of one's own assumptions, and check if these entailments also are endorsed? 

But what can reasonably be argued about by Christians is what Jesus meant by God. And what evidence we have on that subject (what we regard as evidence, and why). My primary objective evidence is the Fourth Gospel - for reasons given in the link. Others would have other primary authorities. (For Christians, primary authorities then need to be validated as genuine, solid, bottom line intuitions - by God within each of us (by virtue of us being God's children), and by revelations of the Holy Ghost.

We should probably then ask questions like: Did Jesus know God as a person, or as an abstraction? Did Jesus know God as a transcendent mystery, or as one person knows another person? Did Jesus see God as a personal creator, or that which is defined by attributes or abstractions?

And what relation does Jesus's knowing have to our knowing? Did Jesus see men as like Himself: children of God, His brothers and sisters, his friends? Or did He see Men as qualitatively different from Himself, inferior beings such that Men cannot know God in the same ways that He knew God - and for whom God can therefore only be a transcendent mystery, a negative-not-known... 

To ask is to answer - it seems to me.


Francis Berger said...

Well put. I share your belief here. I find I can only believe in God if I know God to be a concrete and personal Being rather than an abstract and impersonal . . . what exactly? Thing? An unknowable force that transcends my creativity, intellect, and intuition?

Anonymous said...

the first problem is that you are looking for an univocal answer.

The truth is that you can only know God up to the spiritual level you are currently on; so God necessarily means different things to different people, according to their spiritual level. (Not because there is 'more truths'; but because there are different level of comprehension; each higher level surpassing but encompassing the lower).

God as a father, a human-like person, is suitable for certain low level of comprehension; that is why Jesus uses it when talking to laymen. There is nothing wrong with it; it is good and true.

BUT - you are invited to raise yourself up to a higher spiritual level; and thus also raise your understanding of what is God.

The second problem is that it seems to me that you want to cling to the low-level, child-like level of spirituality; completely with the child-like conception of God. And that is not good.

Child-like conception of God is only good if you are willing to grow behind it, out of it. Otherwise, it becomes a stumbling block.


Otto said...

"Of course, any brief definition immediately cries out for further definitions ..."

But Bruce missed the obvious infinite regress implicit in this statement! (... and more importantly: Absolutely Infinite regress. Absolute Infinity = that which lies at the end of that which has no end.) Thus God is not the definiens in Bruce's definition above, but the (ineffable – as pointed out by Campbell) terminus of absolutely infinite regress (terminus of that which has no terminus).

Bruce Charlton said...

@Francis - Thanks.

@Lao'C - Not so. My belief is actually (in brief) that we are supposed/ destined to 'grow out of' the unconscious passivity of the child's conception of God; through an adolescence of abstraction and impersonality and then (brief, perhaps momentary) atheism; to return by choice and will to knowing God as a person, a relative but this time consciously and as a 'divine friend', colleague, co-creator.

@Otto - No, I do Not believe in an infinite regress - but assume a starting point when beings 'just are'.

For example, God the Father, Jesus Christ, you, me, the angels and demons have all of us 'been' (existed) since eternity - developing and transforming.

William Wildblood said...

What is a higher spiritual level than Person? If we are talking about a being there is none. There is only abstraction. i agree there are different levels of comprehension but the greater includes the lesser just as a cube includes a square so God as person will remain in all of these.

When the chips are down we all turn to God as a person. He may be more than our current idea of a person. He can never be less as in Joseph Campbell's utterly useless definition.

Stephen Macdonald said...

And he said: "Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven."

-- Matthew 18:3

Wm Jas Tychonievich said...

When I was a Mormon missionary, we were taught to begin our first lesson by saying "Most people believe in a Supreme Being, although they may call him by different names" -- i.e., the words people use are different, but the underlying belief is essentially the same. Nowadays I would say the opposite: Most people believe in something they call "God," although they may mean any number of things by that word!