God is not "A being" or a thing in the universe (part 1)
Bill walker is a regular reader and commenting atheist critic of this blog and mainly of Atheist Watch. Apparently he doesn't actually read my posts because I've said things that totally contradict the assertions he makes and that should tell anyone of reasonable intelligence that their view of what I believe is wrong; but he doesn't seem to notice. Here he's at it again:
Joe, I'm still hoping that you'll take a cosmic view of the Cosmos & of the primitive tribal god our ancestors invented during the early iron age. If you need help on this, it's to be had on ExChristian.net,also Atheist Nexus.Reconciling the dogma of Xianity & science, especially Astronomy, is impossible. When one considers the fact of several hundred BILLION galaxies,each with up to several hundred billions in each of them, ours being one of the smaller ones, & of 13.7 BILLION years in existence, the sheer unlikelihood of 'the creator sending his only offspring to be born of a virgin in the early iron age in a dinky town in the middle east, isn't just astronomically unlikely. It's frigging INSANE. Please open your mind to examining the doctrines of Xianity.
He makes the astoundingly naive assertion that if one was to understand the juxtaposition of modern astronomy with ancient primitive beliefs once could not be a Christian. At this point he would have to assume that all Christians are literatists and too stupid to understand Genesis as metaphor or mythology or to see the big man in the sky of the OT as metaphor. This does nothing but highlight the ignorance and stupidity of not reading theology but pretending to pompously critique it. If he read theology he would know that the vast majority of theologians in the world today (being the more learned end of Christian camp) do not buy Genesis as a literal history of creation.
Not that there's a logical reason why the big man in the sky could not create an unbounded universe. The universe is finite, contrary to Bill's understanding. He, like most atheists who yak at Chrsitians about the wonderfulness of science really knows little about scinece. Universe is finite yet unbounded. NO reason why a guy with a body if he was powerful enough could not or would not create it. Of course the truth of it is most modern theologians (myself included ) do not think God is a big man or has a body. I am sure Bill thinks we do. I took four courses in astronomy in college and I'll wager that's more than Bill took and I will wager I know more about astronomy than he does.
I've said this explicitly a number of times and if Bill was really reading he should get it. I understand that the people who wrote the OT, the collections of writings that make it up (it did not fall out of the sky as one bound volume nor were all the parts of it written by the same guy) were written by primitive people whose understanding is not up to par with ours in terms of science or the cosmos. We all know this. As many times as I've talked by my view of inspiration he should understand that I do not regard the books of the Bible as "written by God" but as human accounts of divine/human encounters. It's a totally different model than the one he is use to assuming Christians believe. It's a model that allows for mistakes in fact. It's a model that allows for mistakes in scinece and history. It's a model that is not about inerrency.
My assumption is that there is this aspect to all being, it is an aspect that is eternal. Invidious "things" aka "the beings" are temporal, contingent, and temporary. They come into being, the go out of being, they replaced by other temporal, contingent, temporary things. There is an aspect to being that is eternal. It has no beginning and no end, it is not a series of causes, it's not really a "final cause" since you can't really trace it as a series of causes and effects. This aspect is called "being itself" the basis of what being is, the "ground of being." "Ground refers not only to basis, so its' the basis of 'the beings" or all that exits, but it's also "ground" as in "depth psychology." When Tillich says "Being has depth" he's saying that that there's an aspect of being we only understand subliminally, an aspect that fits into the background, that we don't think about usually and we can't see we can't locate it as a "thing" among other things, but it's always there and it always has been and always will be.
It's that thing we call "God." The primitives in sensing the presence of it try to pin it down and say what it is the attached to it the cultural constructs they understood best. In the world of the bronze age when they wrote the OT works the first draft of J (the J document that was woven together with E,D, and P to form the OT) they filtered this eternal aspect of being through their lens of cultural understanding they linked it the king on his throne because that was the most powerful they knew of, that's what they thought about when they thought of creative power and the force of divine will. Of cousre understanding it as a will at all was an even older construct. So they speak about "the Lord" and they portray him as a man on a throne a king, becuase that's what they thought about when they thought of power. We come along for generation after generation thinking of God in this say, as a king, as "the Lord." We don't realize there are other constructs we have ourselves we can also filter it through. For me one of those constructs is Necessary Being. I use this one becasue I like philosophy and find a helpful distinction the one between necessity/contingency, so I call it "eternal necessary being."
This "being itself" is not "a being" but being, the thing that the act of being is. The basis of the act of being. We can even say that is a construct. But this aspect of being is in all things. It's in the ground, the in the air, it's in us, in me and you, in each of us. The unwary can become concerned and think its' pantheism, it is not pantheism. Pantheism reduces God to a thing, the force of nature, or the sum total of all things taken together. But God is not a "thing" alongside other things. I call it an "aspect of being" that itself is a construct and might be in danger of reducing God to a thin, if we think of it as one ingredient in making up the universe with other ingredients, it also makes the universe sound like a cake.
I've expressed this before in this blog. I quote a translator form 1923 who describes Dionysus the Areopagine's view of God. I find this is a find description that really sums up what I believe.
The ideas of “Pseudo Dionysus” as he is most often known in the west, are set down in a long introduction by the translator Clearance Edwin Rolt. Rolt died at thirty-seven and this was his only book, but he had been hailed as one of the finest scholars ever produced by Queens College. Thus I think it only fair that we quote from the man himself. The major concept in which turns all Dionysus has to say is daubed by Rolt as the Super Essential Godhead:
The basis of their teaching is the doctrine of the Super-Essential Godhead (ὑπερούσιος θεαρχία). We must, therefore, at the very outset fix the meaning of this term. Now the word “Essence” or “Being” (οὐσία) means almost invariably an individual existence; more especially a person, since such is the highest type that individual existence can in this world assume. And, in fact, like the English word “Being,” it may without qualification be used to mean an angel. Since, then, the highest connotation of the term “Essence” or “Being” is a person, it follows that by “Super-Essence” is intended “Supra-Personality.” And hence the doctrine of the Super-Essential Godhead simply means that God is, in His ultimate Nature, Supra-Personal.
Now an individual person is one who distinguishes himself from the rest of the world. I am a person because I can say: “I am I and I am not you.” Personality thus consists in the faculty of knowing oneself to be one individual among others. And thus, by its very nature, Personality is (on one side of its being, at least) a finite thing. The very essence of my personal state lies in the fact that I am not the whole universe but a member thereof.
God, on the other hand, is Supra-Personal because He is infinite. He is not one Being among others, but in His ultimate nature dwells on a plane where there is nothing whatever beside Himself. The only kind of consciousness we may attribute to Him is what can but be described as an Universal Consciousness. He does not distinguish Himself from us; for were we caught up on to that level we should be wholly transformed into Him. And yet we distinguish between ourselves and Him because from our lower plane of finite Being we look up and see that ultimate level beyond us. The Super-Essential Godhead is, in fact, precisely that which modern philosophy describes as the Absolute. Behind the diversities of this world there must be an Ultimate Unity. And this Ultimate Unity must contain in an undifferentiated condition all the riches of consciousness, life, and existence which are dispersed in broken fragments throughout the world. Yet It is not a particular Consciousness or a particular Existence. It is certainly not Unconscious, Dead or, in the ordinary sense, non-Existent, for all these terms imply something below instead of above the states to which they are opposed.
At this point I quote myself because I've put this up before:
We can see in that description several features which correspond to the things Tillich says. One interesting discussion that I close before it is started is the “personal” aspects. I am saving that discussion for its own chapter on Being itself and consciousness. The first point of interest is the connection between being and essence. He defines ousia as either one. Ousia of course is the root words of homoousios. Rolt confirms Tillich’s view in saying that essence refers to a particular existence, but the Super Essential is in contrast to an individual person. God is beyond the consciousness of an individual, but is in fact a universal consciousness that is in all things and can identify with all beings. I’ve already dealt with Tillich’s nix on pantheism; this is not a pantheistic idea. Yet in defining it Rolt deals with many of the aspects of God as being iself expressed by Tillich. God is infinite, God is not one person among others, transcendent of all we know and dwells on a plane beyond our understanding. The term “Super Essential” can be understood as “ground of being” or “Being itself.” They are basically saying the same thing. The Greek phrase he uses for “Super-Essential Godhead” is ‘humperusios Thearkia: Super means “over” or “transcendent” a structure over something else, such as “superstructure.” Thearkia is commonly the term in the NT for “Godhead.” What is being communicated is the notion of transcendence but also the transcendental signifier, the overview to the ordering of meaning and order, that is equivalent to the concept of a ground, of course as pointed out, essential has an affinity with being. Thus we could as well translate it “ground of being.” The concept of God as “Ground of Being” is the concept of “Super Essential” God. I don’t suggest that “ground” would be a good translation as translations go, but I do think it’s hinting at the same idea.
Pseudo Dionysius himself begins by embracing the vita negative, God is beyond our understanding, we don’t try to say what God is, we experience what God is (mystical union) we say what God is not and infer from that the truth, except where we are given clear understanding in Scripture. “We must not then dare to speak, or indeed to form any conception of the hidden Super-Essential Godhead, except those things that are revealed to us from the Holy Scriptures. For a Super-Essential understanding of it is proper to unknowning which lieth at the Super-Essence thereof surpassing discourse, intuition, and Being.” The translator capitalizes being.
The one who is beyond thought surpasses the apprehension of thought; the good which is beyond utterance surpasses the reach of words. Yea, it is a unity which is the unifying source of all unity and a Super-Essential Essence, a Mind beyond the reach of mind and Word beyond utterance, Eluding Discourse, intuition, Name and every kind of being. It is the universal cause of existence while itself existing not for it is beyond all being and such that it alone could give, with proper understanding thereof, a revelation of itself.(52)
Notice that this appears to be where Tillich obtains his usage of the term “existence,” and the distinction that God does not exist. What is puzzling is that while Tillich says God is beyond existence, because existence is for contingent things, and God is Being itself, identifies God with Being, Dionysus says God is beyond being. But then he is a full blown neo-Platonist. For him being is just reality and that is a copy of the true nature of things in which it participates. Tillich seems to move one step over from neo-Platonism toward modern existentialism. Dionysus tells us that we must make no expression or positive statement about the Super-Essential Godhead except those revealed in scripture for these are actually revealed by God. He tells us that “many writers thou wilt find who have declared that it [Super-Essential Godhead] is not only invisible and incomprehensible but also unreachable and past finding out since there is no trace of any that have penetrated the depth of its infinitude.” God reveals “itself” in stages commensurate with the powers of the subject for understanding. The notion that God is so wholly other, so transcendent of understanding is right in line with Tillich’s view. It’s clear Dionysius is a major source for Tillich’s existential ontology.
Do you see now how this view just totally kicks in the head of any idea that I think there's this big man in the sky? In this view God does not have to create by sitting around and saying "I think I will make me a universe." He doesn't even have to be a planner or do any kind of ratiocination. In this view God could be a principle like the dialectic, the laws of physics, the unified field, or even evolution 'itself.' (what else but an "itself?"). But don't go thinking this destroys Christianity or that it is the least bit unorhtodox. Dionysus is at the center of Greek Orthodox world, he's as Orthodox as one can get. Nor does it eliminate the idea of a loving fatherly God who cares about you, the concept itself (see above) include the idea of God as conscious. In fact it leaves us with the idea of mind as the basis of reality rather than energy or mater. Thus "God" would be the origin of the conscious. the planing and all that seems to connect God to the mind like that of a man can be understood as an instant or a second a nono second requiring no reflection. It is both deterministic and random it's both impersonal and the product of a consciousness. That makes "God" both loving and dispassionate. It also means sense because God transcends all our neat little categories. This is why the atheists can't determine or second guess what God would do. That would require understanding God and God is beyond our understanding.
God is not the man on a throne and the open boundless nature of the universe reflects God's unconditioned nature. While at the same time we can relate to God's love and accurately call God "father." The contingent nature of the universe reflects it's created nature and thus highlights God as the eternal necessary aspect of being.
Dionysius the Areopagite: on Divine names and the Mystical Theology, trans. Clearance Edwin Rolt , New York, New York: Cosmio 2007, from original 1920 publication. see also online versionChristian Classics Ethereal Library, on line version, The Author and his Influence, trans by, 1920 website URL: by http://www.ccel.org/ccel/rolt/dionysius.iii.i.html
visited May 13,
 Ibid, Introduction, 4-5
 Pseudo-Dionysius, On Divine Names, Ibid 52
 Ibid, 53