[Note: the contents page for this series can be found here. The previous entry, starting Chapter 40, can be found here.]
[This entry concludes Chapter 40, "An Introduction to the Concept of Sin".]
I have inferred that it is possible for God to enact one kind of death, and indeed that He does enact this: the submission of the Son to the Father (while maintaining the distinctive existence of the Person of the Son) in order to complete the circuit of the Unity and thus actively maintain self-existence.
I have further deduced from this that it is technically possible for God to partly kill Himself in other ways, so that true creation of not-God entities and systems may be instituted; after all, here I am, a not-God entity.
It is therefore not in principle impossible for God to subject Himself to several sorts of death.
I conclude, in extension of this principle, that it must be possible that God could take actions that would result in the breaking of the Unity and His consequent self-annihilation.
And at least one of those actions would be, on His own part and with full intention, to willfully embrace contradictions.
Don't misunderstand me: I am absolutely certain that God never has and never shall act that way; for if He did, all reality would cease, including our past and present--and yet here you and I are.
Yet God is not 'good' through some merely static or automatic necessity of His existence, much less as if some attribute of Him was imposed upon Him from an outside contingency. Instead, His existence (and the existence of everything else) depends on His raw, eternal, personal and active choice to actively maintain His self-existent reality--and this raw, eternal choice also happens to establish the most basic and most powerful objective grounding for 'morality', for it involves an eternally self-consistent interPersonal relationship..
God's "goodness" is not like the color of my hair; it is not something imputed to Him which He may or may not have some ability to modify. It is His most basic possible action, constantly and intentionally chosen by Him--and the implications of that choice must be fully known to Him.
I seriously doubt that you, my reader, ascribe any 'character value' to 'forced charity' among other people. But God's charity, even to Himself, is never forced by causal necessity. He actively and fully chooses it, constantly; and always has; and always shall.
His charity may take forms, commensurate with the fulfillment of justice, that you or I may not immediately recognize as charity, of course; but we should be ready and willing to look for the charity involved, as well as to reject doctrines which suggest that in principle God takes actions for uncharitable reasons.
Let me speak personally for a moment. To know that God exists, is very interesting to me. To know that He created me, is also very interesting to me. To know that God is a transpersonal 'trinity in unity' is not only interesting, but gives me grounds to feel quite a bit better about 'backing a particular horse', so to speak. To know that God's characteristics must be such that He provides an objective standard for true ethics, is somewhat reassuring and somewhat useful to me. (I say ‘somewhat’, because there are times when the existence of an objective ethical standard can be very annoying--for instance, when I want to make use of someone else for my own selfish gratification!) To know that I can rely on God's goodness eternally, is extremely reassuring to me.
But to understand that God eternally, actively, consciously chooses never to act against fulfilling interpersonal relationships, whether His own or others, even though He technically could, but always and forever acts toward fulfilling and reconciling those relationships--this gives me the first truly ethical reason to gladly stand and proclaim:
"I choose to serve that King!!"
To serve God because He exists, or because He has this or that important intrinsic characteristic, is admittedly prudent; and (I suppose) I would still do so out of that logical prudence if that was all there was to knowing God.
But this goes beyond mere logical prudence--although not beyond logical understanding.
If I am correct about God's existence and His causal relationship to us, then you, my reader, are also a servant, and more than a servant but also a son or a daughter of the King Himself!--whether you know this idea or not, whether you accept it and enact it or not, whether you even merely believe it or not. This is a primary relationship, and although it can be denied or acted against, it can never be superinduced. We have no need to be adopted as if the Lord Above was not the Father of our souls; it is only a question of whether we choose to be good or rebellious children: will we love each other and our common Father, together? Nor need we fear that our Father will need to be somehow made aware of us; no, He must be already acting toward us constantly, and will know if we, you and I, are being worthy of the inheritance of His family. The sheep, the mature flock in the parable, were surprised to be inheritors--apparently they were expecting a rather different reception! As did the baby-goats--who still needed cleaning. (Which is the word in the Greek, by the way.)
In much the same way, if I am completely wrong and non-sentient Nature turns out to be the Independent Fact, then nothing I do or say shall be able to change that Fact, or my fundamental and even foundational relationship to that Fact, whatever my various attitudes and beliefs about the topic may be.
But, the truth of God’s eternal, active commitment to be fulfilling the fair-togetherness of persons (which we call ‘righteousness’ in English--even when we don’t really know what that word is supposed to mean!), is something I can know, and even accept, as a logical fact--and yet I could still choose to decide that it shall effectively mean nothing to me.
The merely factual character of God that I have inferred up to this point, does mean quite a lot for you and me; yet in a way it means so much, and touches our lives so intimately, that God almost seems something like gravity.
But this is the first aspect of God I have deduced, that begins to give me a solid understanding of God's character as a Person.
Still--perhaps by itself it is no great thing after all.
The sceptic may say, in a sense quite truly, that there is nothing specially impressive about God choosing actively to behave a particular way throughout eternity, if to choose otherwise would be utter suicide for Him.
As far as I have gone, I think there is some reasonableness in that attitude; it seems to me to be at least a self-consistent way of thinking about the topic.
All I can say for the moment, is that my heart tells me I ought to be able to appreciate some significant personal difference, between a God Who is 'good' by (a sort-of) accident, even an accident of His self-existence, and a God Who is good because He chooses to (quite literally) 'be'.
And I, for one, am willing to appreciate that difference.
But I admit that such a choice on my part has little or nothing to do with any merely academic conclusion of analysis. I can only record my willing response to this notion, which seems to me to be the proper one I should have as a person.
Moving along: so God could do something of the sort I have mentioned. He never chooses to do it, never has, never shall; but technically speaking, as the ultimate entity with 'free-will', He could attempt to foster a contradiction.
This means that if I myself am capable of actively seeking--or even succeeding--in deluding myself or others through knowingly embracing contradictions, then I am not capable of doing something that is technically impossible for God. I am only doing something that, as it happens, God never has nor never shall choose to do. And there is no contradiction in that position.
Furthermore, I ask myself: why would (or why do) I do these things? Why would I ever insist on treating reality as if it was one way, when I know that it is not?
Let me emphasize that I do not consider actions such as 'dramatic creation' or 'playing make-believe' of any sort to fall into this category. A person playing 'make-believe' knows she is playing 'make-believe' and is not really obstinately demanding that reality shall be one way when she knows it is another. The intent is completely different. To 'make-believe' in play is to be subordinately creative. It can be a conscious paying of proper homage--or even an unconscious homage--to the true Creator of us.
I do not say there are no ethical responsibilities in such subordinate wish-creations--that topic is a whole other kettle of fish! All I mean to say here, is that such actions are not necessarily similar in intent to a demand for reality to be something different than what it is known to be. When dramatic actors (for instance) begin behaving in that sort of way, we say they are being irresponsible, even though they may still (by happenstance) be going through the motions of otherwise innocuous 'dramatic acting'. (This is true about other creative actions as well, of course, such as story writing.)
No--I am talking about times when, for instance, I know I am supposed to be fulfilling a promise I made to someone; and yet I tell myself 'one more minute writing this book won't hurt anyone'.
I know that isn't true--one more minute writing this book will defraud my side of my promise by one more minute; but, dammit, I want one more minute of writing--preferably thirty more minutes--and I am occasionally willing to tell myself, or other people, whatever will do the trick!
When I do this, I am demanding to deny the responsibility that I (nevertheless) recognize to exist.
My demand does not make my responsibility go away. But even the intent to try, by force of will, to get my own way despite reality, makes all the difference.
It doesn't matter whether I succeed or not--the electrical power may go out one second later, leaving me no ability to fulfill my wishes, or I may be forced to leave my writing by the one to whom I made my previous promise. Nevertheless, I willingly wanted to do this thing that would result in going back on my promise, and I intended to do it if I could.
It doesn't even matter whether I am correct about my responsibilities or not--maybe I wasn't paying attention when I made the promise, and so missed the part where she said I had plenty more time to write. I don't know about that provision, if it exists; but I still willingly insist on doing what I want to do.
Therefore, I intend to breach what I think is the responsibility that I recognize to exist.
In this, and in other ways, I know that I ought to do something because I think reality (especially interpersonal reality) is such-n-such a way; but I nevertheless sometimes choose to do the other thing, if I possibly can.
Essentially, I want to be the person who defines what is and is not the actual principles of interpersonal relations (or what is "good"), and to be the one who defines what is and is not true.
In fact, I do not merely want to define them (since that might involve discovery and categorization of them), but to change them from what I know (or think) them to be.
At those times, I do not merely want to be God with the authority of God.
In essence, I want--and more importantly I am willfully trying--to be God over against God.
Christians, along with many other theists, call this 'sin'.
And in the next chapter, I will consider some of the deductive consequences of this behavior of mine.
[Next up: the waging, and the wages, of sin.]
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[Note: the contents page for this series can be found here. The previous entry, starting Chapter 40, can be found here.]
[Note: the contents page for this series can be found here. The previous entry, concluding Chapter 39, can be found here.]
[This entry starts Chapter 40, "An Introduction to the Concept of Sin".]
One especially important part of a discussion about ethics involves the question of 'evil'. If ethics are only a human invention, or if ethics are only a perceptual illusion based on irrational response to our environment (micro or macro), or if ethics are only some combination of those two general explanations, then any discussion of 'evil' is rendered somewhat moot. 'Evil' would mean only what you and I have been automatically conditioned to treat as 'evil', and/or only what you and I happen to reject (whether for self-practical purposes or aesthetically).
Learning ‘what is evil’ would mean learning what we have been automatically conditioned to treat as evil, and/or learning what other people have opportunistically chosen to treat as evil. We could still discuss something we (or other people not ourselves) call 'evil', and perhaps even make some rational choices concerning our own perceptions of it. But under those two theories that's as far as the usefulness of the concept would go.
Remember: the shared distinction of those two explanations for ethics, is that what is being either discovered or invented (or both) is not really 'ethical' in an objectively qualitative sense. Ethics, according to those theories, are only what we personally want them to be, or are non-rational reactions to stimuli (or perhaps are a combination of both behaviors).
Consequently, 'evil' is put into the same boat.
This can lead to some amusing inconsistencies from advocates of those two theories: I once again recall the popular atheistic naturalist who explains our concept of justice to be a mere species bias similar to racism, but who goes on later to vent against British settlers for mistreating the Australian aborigines. He expects his readers to agree that the settlers' racism was really unjust, aside from his own mere opinion about it, and thus should be decried!
When I first discussed the general kinds of ethical theory, such inconsistencies might be neither here nor there. But based on what I have argued since then, I am now in a position to fit them into the shape of my metaphysic.
So far in this book, I have argued that God exists; and subsequently I have argued that because God has certain properties necessary for His self-existence (much more for the existence of anything else, such as you or me), He also intrinsically provides the objective ethical standard.
Furthermore I have argued that it would be self-contradictory (and indeed the incurable suicide of all reality) for God to ever set aside His own internal interPersonal standard of behavior--the Personal behaviors that constitute the ultimate standards of what we call 'love' and 'justice'. God's behavior shall, will, remain self-consistent.
Consequently (I have argued), God would communicate an internal witness to all thinking people in all times and places. This witness would, at the minimum, consist of a request or reminder or urge that we as individuals should not accept what we judge to be contradictory as being nevertheless true.
Can God force me never to accept nor to intentionally propagate contradictions?
In a way, yes He could; but it would not any longer be 'me' who was 'refusing to accept' or 'refusing to propagate' contradictions: it would only be God Himself directly manipulating (at least my body's) matter and energy to produce an effect that happens (by His choice) to take place through my body. 'I' would have no say in the matter, unless and until God ceased doing this particular action through my body; at which time I might revert back to conscious perception and action. God would have 'short-circuited' "me"; but that proposal also short-circuits the question of whether He could 'force me' to 'act honestly'.
God might also manipulate my body in such a fashion that He takes actions through it, while still allowing me to retain consciousness of what is happening; but in that case, my consciousness would include my ability to have personal opinions about what is happening. He could 'make' my body do something 'good'; but so long as my consciousness remains, then I myself might not be choosing to agree with the 'goodness'. If God overrode that part of my self completely, then it would no longer be 'me' choosing to do anything, including having an opinion about the situation. Relatedly, God could find a way to mentally constrain me to certainly behave in certain ways; but then He would not be treating me as a responsible person.
So, God could act "honestly" through my created form, but it would not be 'me' acting "honestly": it would not be 'me' acting at all!
In such a situation, God would also not be relating to 'me' as Person to person: only as Personal Creator to His creation. I acknowledge that God could do this, if He wanted to; and maybe He even has, to some people, at some times, in some circumstances. But I have argued many chapters ago that He must not do this through me constantly (and also, from what I can perceive, He must not do this through me very much at all, maybe never); because I do not get the impression that I am God. Consequently, either I am God and God is lying to Himself (which is impossible, as it would break the Unity); or I am God and God is mistaken about being God (which is similarly impossible); or I am not God, meaning that I sometimes am responsible for initiating my own (though derivative) actions 'myself'.
So, can God force me, personally, never to accept nor to intentionally propagate contradictions? Ultimately, the answer is no: He cannot force 'me', per se.
Does this mean God does not care whether I would intentionally propagate contradictions? No, for that would violate His own interPersonal and eternal standard of justice--and probably such a lack of care by Him would violate His love, too (keeping in mind that in God’s unique self-existence love and justice are ultimately the same thing considered from somewhat different ‘directions’, analogically speaking.)
Well then, is it impossible for me to willingly accede to contradictions?!
Now we are getting very near the question--and the problems--of evil. Perhaps I should put it the other way around: is it possible (and can I figure out how it is possible) that I am capable of willingly acceding to contradictions?
The Golden Presumption (without which any argument by anybody to any conclusion cannot even begin, much less succeed) states that I can act. I have argued that this necessarily implies the existence of God, and that God's existence in turn does not necessarily require that I cannot act. Now, however, I am examining a proposition that seems to entail my capability to do something that, in principle, God cannot do. How feasible is this proposition; and if it is not feasible, what corollary implications does that conclusion entail?
I can distinguish between willingly and accidentally acceding to contradictions. 'Accidentally acceding' means making mere mistakes, perhaps through lack of skill, or perhaps through ignorance of data conditions. This is not something God, in His transcendent omniscience, can do; no more than He can create a boulder too heavy for Him to lift.
But not only does it seem to me that I can make accidental mistakes (I certainly can testify that I do!), it deductively follows from my existence as a non-omniscient derivatively active creature that it is possible for me to make mistakes.
The strength of this particular contention obviously rests on how successful I have been at arguing that it is not contradictory for me to exist as a derivative act-er; but if that property of my existence is not contradictory, then no absurdity would follow from proposing that I can possibly make mere mistakes. As an entity who (or even 'which') is less than God, then my abilities would as a corollary be less than God's. No absurdity follows from a derivative creature possessing capabilities less than God; an accidental mistake on my part, is not a positive capability I possess.
But making a mistake by accident is not the same as willingly embracing what I know to be incorrect.
God, as the final fact of reality, must be presumed to be necessarily self-consistent. Consequently, God will neither produce nor advocate contradictions. God can produce and advocate situations that we fallible humans may currently consider to be contradictory; but this is not the same thing as being contradictory. A paradox is not a contradiction; it invites us to discover the properties that resolve and account for it. Again, God can produce a boulder that He chooses not to manipulate in particular ways (for instance He may choose not to lift it); but He cannot produce a boulder that is 'too heavy' for Him to lift. God can produce a derivative creature like myself, and grant me derivative action ability; but He cannot give me free will and at the same time totally manipulate me like a puppet. Nonsense confabulated out of the grammar of language does not suddenly becomes feasible merely by affixing to it the words 'God can'.
Now, it is also utterly impossible for me to do plenty of real actions, including actions God Himself can do. Due to my physical limitations, I cannot reach out and touch the Statue of Liberty from where I am sitting. God can touch the statue from where He 'is', but that is because natural space and time utterly depend upon Him for maintaining their existence. If God incarnated Himself, He might still be able to touch the statue from anywhere in space/time (while retaining the Incarnated form) by opening a wormhole in space/time and sticking His arm through it. Of course, such a solution might depend on a loose definition of what it means for the Incarnated God to be in one place and not another: His arm would be in New York Harbor, while the rest of Him stood in Palestine or Tennessee or wherever. And I expect God could make a space/time wormhole that allowed me to accomplish the same feat--but that wouldn't be something I can do of my own derivative power (at least as far as I know). (Also, it might be contradictory after all for God to be able to create a situation where I can spatially stick my hand through a warp without having it sheered off or various other effects.)
But I am considering a different question: is it possible for me to willingly--not by accident--accede to contradictions?
Let us say that I know--or at least I think I know--that I cannot possibly, with my own inherent abilities, reach the Statue of Liberty from where I am sitting. Is it possible for me to assert to you that I can? Is it possible for me not merely to assert this to you, but to do so in a persistent manner with the intention of convincing you that I can reach the statue, when I know I cannot? Is it possible for me to willfully blind myself to the fact that I cannot, until through habitually active intent to ignore the fact, I delude myself into such a condition that I eventually become ignorant of the fact?
These answers may be discovered by experiment, and by experience. And I find that I certainly can act with the intention of succeeding in the first two examples; and I suspect I am entirely capable of accomplishing the third example. I am even willing to risk an assumption that you, my reader, are already very familiar with examples of this sort. The whole recorded history of the human species is rancid with act after act of intentional outright misstatement of known falsehoods as fact, including examples of pervasive self-deception.
Is God capable of any of these things?
If my earlier reasoning is true, then such actions, if God did do them, would be a breach of the interPersonal relationship that establishes God's self-existence and also grounds the existence of all other facts of reality. Such a breach would destroy the self-existent Unity of God's transpersonal reality; God would either no longer beget He Himself fully Himself, or else He Himself fully begotten by Himself would become something other than Himself, and thus incapable of further self-generation. Either way, it would be the suicide of God at the most foundational level possible; a suicide from which there could be no recovery. And with the total self-annihilation of God, all the rest of dependent reality would cease to exist, including all of what we call the past, present and future of our natural space/time system.
Yet you and I are still here.
I therefore conclude that God never has, nor never shall do this.
But does that mean He cannot do this?
Is it (at least technically) possible for God to utterly and completely kill Himself?
[Next up: the choice of the Good, and other choices]
[Note: the contents page for this series can be found here. The previous entry, starting Chapter 39, can be found here.]
[This entry concludes Chapter 39, "The Role of the Third Person of God".]
[Repeating where the prior entry left off:] Moving along then: what kind of communication can we expect from the Holy Spirit to anyone at all, in any time and place?
It might be suspected that this would mean all people at any time and place would hear God talking directly to them in an unambiguously clear and constant manner. However, this obviously does not happen. Why this does not happen is certainly worth consideration eventually, because it would seem to be one of the most effective means of communication--perhaps not useful for every contingency, but useful enough to be a common occurrence.
So we know from experience there are evidently some limitations to His communication with us, even at the most fundamental level of communication (through the Holy Spirit). Setting aside (only for the moment) the question of why the limitations exist, let me ask instead what the 'limitations of the limitations' would be, so to speak. In other words, what is the minimum of necessary communication we can expect from God?
This minimum shall itself be contingent on some other factors, of course: a woman in a coma might not be in any condition, while in that condition, to receive a personal communication from God. This is not because God has abandoned her: He is still there or even her body would cease to exist altogether, and He would still care about any personality that had developed before the coma or which might still develop afterward. But while she is in that state, then (as far as we know) she cannot herself relate to anything as a 'person'. If God cares about her as a person (and He will), then we can be assured that He will not let her stay in that state forever; which is another topic worth coming back to later. All I am saying at the moment, is that special cases have special qualifications, and should not be considered the rule of thumb for gauging the normal relations between God and man. (Although, we should expect even the special cases to be dealt with on the same principles as the normal cases, even if the application may be significantly different.)
Therefore, by 'norm' I mean the state of rationality in which most people find themselves, at greater or lesser efficiency, throughout most of their lives. Barring special case-by-case circumstances (even in otherwise 'normal' individuals), what is the minimum necessary communication from God?
To answer this question, I think it is worth asking: what is the minimum necessary characteristic of existence itself?
If we look back to God, what shall we find as the 'lowest common denominator'? What are the properties of God's own interPersonal relationship?
I find at least two properties: self-consistent rationality; and self-consistent mutual service (the Begetting of the Son and the Abdication back to the Father forms the 'circuit of Self-Existence', so to speak).
Is one of these two qualities perhaps the characteristic I am looking for? I don't think so--although they shall certainly be the standard toward which God will expect us to attain. Yet each of these two qualities shares another quality: that of 'self-consistency'.
Literally speaking, the English term 'self-consistent' might mean the same as 'self-existent' (i.e., something 'consists of itself'); and self-existence is certainly a property of God. But I have been using 'self-consistent' somewhat more distinctively, to mean that these relationships entail no contradictions. They could not possibly entail contradictions, for no contradiction ever actually exists--if it could exist, it would not be contradictive.
An actually existent reality can never under any possible circumstances exhibit contradictions; even an atheistic reality, if it could exist, would be incapable of exhibiting contradictions.
I conclude therefore, that under even the barest minimum existent conditions, a communication from God to us shall inevitably consist, at the very least, of a reminder; an impression; an urge; something; to the effect that we should not ever accept (or even prefer) that a state we perceive to be contradictive actually exists.
Notice I have qualified myself here. Certainly, we would be constantly reminded by God ('in our hearts', so to speak) that contradictions should be rejected. Yet we ourselves are fallible, non-omniscient beings: we make mistakes. It is entirely possible that you or I might think that something is a contradiction when in fact it is not; or, we might think a proposal is cogently self-consistent, when the proposal is actually contradictory.
We can expect God to know the real truth of these situations, and to work to correct such impressions of ours. But assuming for the moment (as our experience certainly gives us grounds to conclude) that not every communication of God to us has effects immediately recognizable by us, then it follows that God knows quite well that in any given case (maybe even in most given cases) there shall be a 'lag-time' between His attempts at instructing us and our success in perceiving, understanding and accepting the instruction.
So, what should God expect from us during that 'lag-time'? By definition, during the lag-time we shall not have perceived and understood that what we thought was contradictive really is not (or vice versa). Shall we accept what we think is contradictive then, in the meanwhile?
I do not believe God would expect this of us. Our willing choice to reject contradictions in principle, is a far more primary act on our part than the correct estimation of any given proposal as a contradiction or not. If we get into the habit of accepting what we perceive to be contradictions, even as a makeshift, it will be a bad habit that can only cause trouble later--even if it happens that what we accept despite our perception of contradictoriness is in fact not contradictory.
Even in our thoughts about God Himself, shall we say, "I believe such-n-such proposition about God to be truly contradictive, but I say this is true of God anyway"? This either means saying nothing at all about God; or it means denying the reality of God.
Even if the honest person avoids this through sheer force of willed loyalty to God (for example, perhaps she doesn’t yet understand that if contradictions could be true about God, we would never possibly have any reliable knowledge either of God or of anything else), how shall she distinguish misunderstandings and misinterpretations later? She has learned to accept propositions as true, which she perceives to be contradictive; and misunderstandings and misinterpretations are inevitably contradictive at some point (although that 'point' may be very subtle). She would be willing to accept authority over what she perceives as being cogent; or even to accept her own wishful thinking over what she perceives as being cogent.
This is a dangerous state of affairs for her; one that shall spill over into her 'non-religious' life as well. Because sometimes what she will judge to be contradictory really shall be contradictory; and yet she will have learned to accept perceived contradictions as being possibly true and useful anyway (while remaining definite contradictions).
That route leads to disaster, for her and for others.
So, I think the very most primary notion God would want to communicate to that person, if He could communicate nothing else, would be: accept reality--do not accept contradictions.
He would know that due to her fallibility, this could mean she might reject something that He knows she needs to know, something that in fact (despite her misjudgment) is not contradictory. But better for her to do this, than for her to embrace apparent inconsistencies; for at least she shall be learning good habits. And God will not let her stay in her error forever; that would be inconsistent on His part. He will work constantly (even if He must lay ages of groundwork before His work succeeds) to help her understand the truth.
Such a basic communication lies at the ground of any further possible successful communication from God: whether His method is a divinely whispered ethical suggestion, or a metaphysical revelation, or even a historical document. It leads to more efficient clarity of thinking in all topics, secular or religious. It leads to more efficient interactions with God, and with God's creation. It transcends philosophies; it transcends particular ethical codes; it transcends languages, cultures, and ages. The youngest thinking person can make use of it to learn more, even if he cannot quite state it; the oldest thinking person can use it to pass her wisdom usefully to younger generations. It lies at the root of what it means to 'think' in the first place; and it lies at the root of honesty.
It can also be willfully denied.
And if it is denied, then eventually the denier shall suffer the consequences of the denial; not because God is spiteful, but because if people do not efficiently interact with reality then they shall end up 'bumping heads' against something greater than they are, to their detriment (like charging a locomotive straight on)--and because if people willingly choose to accept and propagate what they know to be contradictive, they do not leave themselves in a position to learn better: the two willed possibilities (accept what you have honestly judged to be falsehoods or reject them) are mutually exclusive.
To set one's will against contradictions, then, is to strive with (not against) the Holy Spirit.
But to actively embrace contradictions, means not merely to speak a word against the internal testimony of the Holy Spirit (that could happen by honest accident): but to blaspheme against the Holy Spirit--to prefer, analogically speaking, the darkness of obscurity over the light of clarity and efficient accuracy. It means to willingly shut out what little light you have within you; "and if the light within you is darkness, then how great is that darkness."
I do not conclude that this urging is the only action the Holy Spirit can and does do in a person. I only conclude that this urging--to refuse what we discern as contradictions--must necessarily be the most basic, fundamental action the Holy Spirit does within each of us, in relating to us as Person to person. Only persons can have real intent; only persons can actively perceive and judge a proposition to be 'contradictory'; and certainly only a person can choose whether or not he will act as though what he perceives to be contradictory is nevertheless the truth.
God does not choose to accept what is contradictory; if He did, the unity of His self-consistency (and thus of His self-consistent existence) would be broken, and then all reality would cease--including our past, present and future. You and I are still here, so we can be assured that God never does this! At the same time, experience shows that we are entirely capable of preferring contradictions which we recognize to be contradictions.
But contradictions are not real, and are not reality. God, on the other hand, is the root and ground of reality--He is, so to speak, the 'most real' of things.
To choose as a principle to accept contradictions, therefore, eventually means going against reality: and God is the most real.
How and why is this possible? And what are the implications? In the next several chapters I will be discussing these questions.
In other words, the time has come for me to discuss 'sin'.
(In case readers feel apt to get panicky about the discussion moving hence to ‘sin’, especially by context ‘the sin against the Holy Spirit’, let me reassure you I mainly mean to discuss my sinning, not other people’s. Which may be un-reassuring in other ways perhaps!--but I mean that I won’t be launching into finger-pointing about the sins of my-opponents-and-you-and-you-and-them-over-there. No need to do that; my own sins are quite sufficient enough for discussion of the principles.)
[Next up: contradiction and ethical failure]
[Note: the contents page for this series can be found here. The previous entry, concluding Chapter 38, can be found here.]
[This entry starts Chapter 39, "The Role of the Third Person of God".]
In the previous chapter, I examined a potentially damaging problem stemming from the requirements of some earlier inferences I had made. This problem, although subtle, was severe enough that it might have unraveled quite a bit of my previous argument. However, upon close examination of the problem, I discovered that after removing certain inconsistencies from the option list, I was rewarded, not with a conclusion that much of my previous argument would need to be trash-canned (or at best redrafted), but that there must exist a 3rd Person to the self-existent Unity of God.
I had, in short, deduced the existence of what Christians call "The Holy Spirit" or “The Holy Ghost”.
So, what does this "3rd Person of God" do in relation to us?
The answer to that question depends on what it means for God to Personally relate to us as persons. Remember that I reached this point by deciding that for God to act in relation to you and me (who are persons), which He must to do in some fashion to create and maintain us as persons, He must act in a way that is self-consistent with the standard set by His own eternally self-existent interPersonal conduct: and this active interPersonal relationship, between God self-begetting and self-begotten, is the ultimate standard of what we identify as 'love' and 'justice'. This means He must not merely relate to us persons as the Creator, but as a Person Himself.
Yet (if I may coin a phrase) this is obviously not terribly obvious--otherwise we would have many fewer atheists, and they would all be recognized as completely dishonest ones!
Note carefully what I have said here: I expect there are some atheists who maintain, and even propagate, their atheism through essentially dishonest means, even to the point of being dishonest with themselves. However, that is nothing special: I am dead-level certain there are people calling themselves Christians who maintain and even propagate the faith in a similar manner! Since I know, nevertheless, there are Christians who are basically honest in intent about their beliefs (I think I am one of these myself), I am entirely willing to believe there are plenty of non-Christians (including atheists) who fall into the same category.
And I think it would be better to focus first on the situation of these honest non-Christians: for the doctrine of the Holy Spirit is not something that 'only applies to Christians'. There are, admittedly, some operations of the Holy Spirit, which Christians do think specially apply (or have specially applied) to at least some Christians. But I am not interested in special cases at the moment.
Coming at the topic from this direction (i.e. of metaphysical derivation), the most I can say concerning occasional special actions of the Holy Spirit in individuals, would be merely that the possibility exists. I am not grounding any of my argument on the authority of 'scriptures', because I know that the reliability (and degree of reliability) of purported 'scriptures' is extremely difficult to establish: a problem that most believers don't appreciate the magnitude of, but that nevertheless is most often a stumbling block even for honest and respectable sceptics. Therefore, I will focus instead on operations of the Holy Spirit that are common to everyone, and in principle accessible to anyone, including sceptics.
So: if I am correct in deducing that God relates Personally through the Holy Spirit to every created person, including people who don't accept my own beliefs, what can (and/or must) this mean?
Once more, anything I propose must not violate the self-consistency of God's love and justice: the way He relates to Himself is the standard for how He will relate to us.
How do persons relate to one another as persons? Put another way, how do rational entities relate to other rational entities as rational entities? What does it entail for you, as a rational entity, to relate to me in such a fashion that you intentionally call into play my own rational faculties as an individual?
If you give me some bread, or give me a whomp on the head with a hammer, how are you relating to me? The mere events themselves do not entail that you are thereby relating to me as being myself a rational entity: you may feed plants and bacteria, or you could hit a nail on the head, with essentially the same behaviors (even intentive ones) on your part, and possibly even with essentially similar reactions on my part. But few people consider plants to be rational; and virtually no one considers a nail (in and of itself) to be rational. So, accepting them as a convenient example of the principle, merely doing those things to me does not necessarily require relating to me as one rational entity to another, no moreso than if you treated the plant or the nail that way.
And you would only be relating to me as a rational entity yourself if you purposefully initiated those events. Cataclysmic diarrhea while hiking will feed plenty of plants, but you might not have intended to feed them that way! If the head flies off a hammer and strikes something, it may produce results similar to a directed strike, but you might not have intended it. What you do before or afterward in contribution to those circumstances (for example, choosing to eat that second piece of seven-layer chocolate cake before the hike, and to hell with the consequences!) might constitute a rational action, but those particular subsequent events as such were mere reactions and might have entailed no conscious direction on your part.
So relating to me as a conscious entity yourself, requires active intention on your part: you decide to hit me on the head with the hammer; the hammer doesn't merely slip accidentally out of your grip at an inopportune moment.
But you could decide to hit me, or accidentally hit me, either one, without necessarily relating to me as being a rational entity myself.
There are at least three necessities, then, for you to accomplish the relationship of person-to-person: you and I must both really be persons; you must recognize me as a person, which means recognizing I am someone capable of actively judging the implications of an event to derive the 'meaning' of the event; and you must intend for me to receive at least one meaning from the event that you are (as a person yourself) initiating.
In short: to relate to me as person to person, you must at least attempt some type of communication.
Note that the intention of such a relationship is not constrained by success or failure on the part of either of us (although the factual success of the attempt shall certainly be constrained by whether both of us are persons or not). As the initiator of the action, you might be mistaken about whether I am a person (even if you succeed in obtaining a favorable reaction from me); or you might be incompetent to the task and fail in communicating your desired intent(s). Or I might by circumstance or even willful intransigence ignore or misread your intended meaning(s).
In the case of God, of course, He shall not be mistaken about which of His creations is or is not a real person; and neither shall He be incompetent to the task. But He is dealing with entities (you and I) who as active creatures (even derivative ones) might willfully ignore or misinterpret Him; and there could also be other self-imposed limitations to God's efficiency in communication, depending on what other plans He has put into effect as well as other conditions He considers to be important.
(One obvious example of the latter reservation would be, that if God considers our existence as derivative act-ers to be important, rather than our being only the biological equivalent of sock-puppets, then He will not override the free will He gives us to simply make us respond to His communications the way He wants--indeed, there could be no real point to calling such an event a ‘communication’ at all!)
Putting together the implications of what I have argued since the beginning of Section Two, I think this must be true; and it would still be true, whether or not our failure to understand and properly respond to Him was an accident (from our side of things) or intentional intransigence. If God wants free-willed derivative creatures, then He will have to live with the risk that at any given moment those creatures might rebel against Him or simply misunderstand Him.
So if God will be self-consistent according to His own standard of interPersonal relationships (and He certainly shall be self-consistent as the one self-existent Independent Fact); and if we are rational entities ourselves (per the Golden Presumption); and if we, as such entities, have been created by God (as I have previously inferred); then He will communicate with all of us: God will be the Light Who is enlightening every one who is coming into the world.
Furthermore, this communication will not be limited to any Incarnational contact He has with us, nor limited to any messages He might send to other people for them to pass on to us. An Incarnation, by being an 'Incarnation', can only be in a limited number of places and times 'at once' [see first comment below for a footnote here]; and inspired messages might themselves be misperceived or misunderstood or intransigently perverted by the receivers, or might even suffer normal textual corruption through subsequent copy transmission (even though God would be expected to choose people for special communications of this sort who were as reliable as merely derivative people could be, within the boundaries of any other specific plans of His, thus minimizing--yet not necessarily eliminating!--initial problems in communication.)
Moreover, and more importantly for my current analysis, communicating through 'ambassadors', so to speak, still does not entail communicating with everyone everywhere at all times, even in the case of documentary communication. (It is worth asking why God would bother at all to use special communication routes of this sort if He can reach us through interaction of the Holy Spirit; but I will get to that later.)
So His relation to us as Person to persons will first and foremost be through the communicative operations of the Holy Spirit, His own 3rd Person acting within the overarching foundation of the self-generating Persons of God. This does not mean that every action God might take concerning us personally would be only communication; but it would at least be that. (I mean ‘at least’ in regard to us being people ourselves; insofar as we are creations, God’s action of creating and sustaining our existence would be more fundamental, of course.)
Moving along then: what kind of communication can we expect from the Holy Spirit to anyone at all, in any time and place?
[Next up: the minimum standard of communication]
[Note: the contents page for this series can be found here. The previous entry, starting Chapter 38, can be found here.]
[This entry concludes Chapter 38, "Inferring the Third Person of God".]
A Third Person of God can thus be inferred as solving a special conceptual problem, that is sometimes (and I would say quite rightly) advanced against mere monotheism, on the grounds that God can be necessarily expected to interact personally with created persons (such as ourselves) and that God has characteristics which allow for the existence of a proceeding distinct Person of God Who exists (analogically) ‘within’ the overarching Self-begetting and Self-begotten independent reality of God (without being either the Self-begetting or Self-begotten Persons).
But I hinted back in Section Three, when inferring the interpersonal unity of God (as God Self-begetting and God Self-begotten), that I could have gone on immediately at that point to inferring the existence of a Third Person of God. At the time, I needed to focus topically on the relation of God to creation more generally, and then to persons such as you and I more specifically, so I moved along with a note that I would be getting back to this topic.
While a Third Person of God would solve my conceptual problem, and may be inferred to necessarily exist (if I have properly identified some other characteristics of God and some related necessities), the strength of this conclusion would be reinforced even further if I arrive at an inference of the Third Person’s existence before arriving at the problem.
So, going back for a minute to that earlier place in my argument: we may ask what the first action of God would be if God ever acts at all beyond Self-begetting. To generate not-God reality? That would certainly be an obvious distinction in action: to generate ‘God’ and to generate ‘not-God’. But that first category of generation needs a bit more detail: to generate ‘self-generating God’.
If God generates that which is ‘not-God, then of course God is generating systems and entities (including persons such as ourselves) which (and who) are not self-generating--there can be only one Independent Fact of reality. But if the Self-generating Person of God generates a Self-generated Person of God as the corporate action of God’s own intrinsic self-existence, it is at least worth asking the question whether it is nonsensical for God (the Persons of the Father and the Son) to generate a Person of God Who is not specifically involved in the self-generating action of God.
Such a Person would be not Self-begetting or Self-begotten, but would (for want of a better word) proceed from the Self-begetting and Self-begotten Persons, yet would still be God fully God in the ontological supremacy of God as the final ground of all reality.
Another way of looking at this proposition would be from the standpoint of the love of the Father and the Son for each other. The Father gives the Son Sonship, and gives the Son Himself as well; the Son gives the Father the Son’s Sonship, and in eternally choosing to complete the Unity of Deity could even in a way be said to be giving the Father Fatherhood--the Father could not exist without the Son, no more than the Son could exist without the Father (even though the Son does not beget the Father). The fundamental action of love in the Deity is the giving of Persons to each other.
So we may say that the Persons give the Self-begetting-and-begotten God to one another. Anything else they gave would be generated by and in their Self-existent unity. That would certainly include not-God creation: the Father gives all things to the Son, and the Son surrenders all things to the Father, each loving the other in their fundamental glory. But if they are giving ‘God’ to one another already, in the Persons of themselves, it would be coherent for them to give ‘God’ to one another in a Person of themselves Who is not themselves and yet is, like these Persons in fundamental ultimate unity, God Most High.
If this is not incoherent for the Independent Fact’s unique capabilities and characteristics (compared to any other fact that might exist), then I may correctly expect this to be the next ontological action of God: the Father and Son would generate a corporate Person of God, as fully God as the first two Persons in the single substantial unity, to give to one another in love: “I give you Myself and also this Person, together with You” each of them would in effect be saying and doing.
I do not know (for now anyway) that I can infer that they would necessarily be doing this, at their level of existence, no matter what; but I would at least strongly expect it. And if I come to infer that not-God persons exist (such as you and I) in a not-God system of created reality, then I may consequently deepen that expectation into a certainty: if we exist, then (not causally from our existence, but inferred from evidence of our existence, in conjunction with inferred characteristics and capabilities of God) the Third Person of God must also exist. God would have done that, and would be doing that (and will be doing that), ontologically first, before creation.
I would already believe in the existence of a Third Person of God, therefore, before arriving at my most recent problem; which the existence of a Third Person handily solves. But in order to address a more pressing problem at the time, regarding whether the concept of God’s creation of not-God persons was intrinsically nonsense, I have chosen to wait until now to consider this issue (which also allows me to introduce this Person as part of a developing sectional theme.)
Inferring the existence of this Person is hardly the end of the matter, of course; it opens up many questions, some of which I have already addressed.
But beginning with a question of relevance to why I introduced the Third Person now: is more than a third Person needed for the interaction of God, as a Person, to us as persons?
If God did not transcend time and space, it might be so; but God is not limited to our temporal and derivative mode of being. If God could be a singularity instead of a unity, it might still be true--as I think educated Jews and Muslims, who profess merely the singularity of God, would agree--that He, not being limited to existing within our space and time, has all time and space to deal with us on a person-to-person basis.
In a (not entirely) similar way, I as author of a fantasy saga can deal with any person within my imagined realm at any point within that dependent system I have created. I can jump to book 3 chapter 152 and deal with one character, and then jump to book 1 chapter 23 and deal with another. I have to 'jump', because I am myself derivative and my saga does not proceed directly from me as a coherent reality. God has no need to 'jump around' like that in relation to his own infinite self-existent reality--although any supernatural agents whom He authorizes to interact in our world might perhaps 'jump around' space/time like this.
But even if God did have to 'jump around', such 'jumping' might still allow Him to deal with us personally, one on one, at any point of space and time we may inhabit. And if I somehow moved from one Nature to another, then I would find Him there as well, expressing Himself along the same principles of His character, to the same fundamental purposes, although quite possibly in different specific actions.
Yet as I said, I don't think God must 'jump around' like that. God eternally encompasses all subordinate realities (including any reality I might find myself in), and therefore needs only one distinction of Person to interact with me at all of my times, personally: but that Person must be within the overarching system of God's Unity, and is therefore distinctive (but not separate) from the Father and the Son. This Third Person proceeds, from the unity of the Father and the Son, thus from the Father and the Son, instead of being begotten. But where one Person is in operation, all Persons are in operation, due to the substantial unity of the Persons: the 3rd Person brings us the Father and the Son; the Father and the Son send us this Person, this Spirit of the Father and of the Son.
But while this might solve a conceptual problem of relation between persons and Persons within an overarching reality, does God not relate to Himself as a Person? And if so, then does this not require an overarching reality as common mediator for His own internal relationships with Himself?
God the Father begets: God the Son is God Himself begotten of Himself, self-existent. God is rationally active, personally sentient; thus the Father and Son are personal. The Father and Son are distinct in God’s action of Self-existence, although also in unity (else the self-existence would not be happening); thus they are distinct Persons. If God the Son had no relation with God the Father, the unity of self-existence would be broken and all reality would cease. God the Son is rationally sentient and not a separate entity from the fullness of the Divine Unity; thus, He must know God the Father, and so He must know the Father is a Person. Does this mean the Son knows the Father (and vice versa) as a Person? Yes, I think He must; for although distinct, the 1st and 2nd Persons comprise the Unity of the self-existent God--both are fully God Himself. This means that the Father and Son must have personal--not merely causally self-existent--relationships to one another as Persons.
But does this require an overarching common reality for them to interact with one another? I do not think this is a necessity--for we are speaking of the unified ground of all reality. The active inter-relationship of the Father and Son is itself the self-existence of God as the Independent Fact.
God's existence depends on Himself. If it is not self-contradictive to propose this--and the coherent self-existence of something must lie at the bottom of any proposition about reality--then the personal relationship of God to God is already a given, the ground of His own self-existent facthood as well as of all derivative facts. The interPersonal relationship needs no overarching reality for self-expression; God's self-expression is, itself, the overarching reality: the overarching reality does not need an overarching reality in order to relate to itself.
Any subordinate realities and thus any subordinate relationships (including of God to subordinate persons) shall reflect this in a distinctively derivative fashion. The necessity of an overarching system for your relationship to me, or for my relationship to God, is the shadow of the final (and first) reality, and shall exhibit properties of a shadow or reflection. This should not be surprising; God can only create shadows of Himself, to one (out of an infinite?) degree or another. He is Himself the ultimate of standards for the character of His creations.
So, no, I do not believe the Father or the Son need the Third Person (the Spirit) in order to relate to one another as the unified ground of all existence. But they would corporately generate the Spirit graciously as the first continuing gift of love to one another after the continuing gift of existential love to one another, and so that inter-relationship between the Persons actively exists in the total fundamental reality of God as God: the Father and the Son always and never-endingly love the Spirit together; the Father and the Spirit always and never-endingly love the Son together; the Son and the Spirit always and never-endingly love the Father together; and the Spirit cooperates with the Father and the Son in any further actions of their singular Independent reality together.
This concept of the Spirit cooperating with-and-as God, in creation of not-God entities, deserves some more consideration. If God stoops to create, and abdicates Himself, giving of Himself so that real derivative people such as you and I can live and relate to Him, then He lets us contribute to creation; and so (I can think of no other way to put it) God's properties shall in some way reflect what He 'has done'. If there was a 'time' that God had not created, where God and only God existed--which is another way of saying something I have found I must affirm anyway, that creation does not fill God's existence and that God transcends His creations--then merely in terms of that sort of particularity it would be nonsense to say that God 'had experienced' creation.
But, I do not think God's "time" exists like that. God creates: this must be true, for here we are. Any relation of God to His creation will be part and parcel of God's infinitude. God may choose not to reveal specific truths to us--He is under no obligation to ever give us a full revelation, and in fact it must be contradictory to say that God could give us a full revelation of His infinitude, for we are only derivative. Only the Son can fully know the Father and the Spirit, only the Father can fully know the Son and the Spirit, only the Spirit can fully know the Father and the Son. But whether God tells us specific truths or not, including specific relational truths, those relations of God to His creation will be there, at all points within God the fully self-existent: for in Him we live and move and have our being, and it is by God’s continuing eternal action that we even continue cohering together as derivative entities.
Given that God has created derivative people--and here we are--then the Holy Spirit of God's personal relationship to us, being itself as it must be fully God, will by being fully God be fully God: and so will be present as fully God from what we call the 'beginning' of our Nature, and will be present as fully God even in those particularities of God's infinitude where (using language of spatial analogy) no derivative 'Nature' exists.
The Holy Spirit is eternal, for He is God Himself, proceeding forth from the interacted love of the Father and the Son, for our sakes (and for the sake of all subordinate sentiences), to us, in inconceivably intimate (yet distinct) unity with God the Self-Begettor and God the Self-Begotten.
So, what does this Holy Spirit do within us; this "3rd Person of God"? That will be the topic of my next chapter.
[Next up: some requirements for personal interaction]
[Note: the contents page for this series can be found here. The previous entry, Chapter 37, can be found here.]
[This entry begins Chapter 38, "Inferring the Third Person of God".]
If we cannot perceive something of the principles of God's interPersonal love (the love between Father and Son that grounds all reality), then we will be working at dangerous inefficiency against reality. I think it would be inconsistent with God's love and justice for Him to prevent us from perceiving this (although we might ourselves choose to turn away from it--a topic I will be discussing later). It is not a mere fact about God that we need here, but a real relationship to Him, as person (you and I, individually and corporately) to Person (God--Who Himself is a substantial interPersonal unity).
Unfortunately, an argument I made some time ago may be returning here to nix me. I insisted, back when I was discussing your and my relationship to God and Nature, that you and I needed a common overarching system--specifically, you and I need such a system in order to relate to each other. This requirement happens to be rather nicely fulfilled by an impersonal reactive Nature. (This was not, however, my argument for the created and intrinsically reactive characteristics of Nature, though. I had argued for those conclusions already, before arguing that you and I need a common overarching system in order to relate personally with each other.)
But if an overarching system of commonality really is necessary for interpersonal relation, then it would also apply to any proposed relationship you or I have with God, as people to Person.
So: does God, as a Person, also require a common overarching system for interacting with us?
If so, this might be a serious contradiction: I have denounced many times as nonsense the proposal that the Independent Fact, including as God if theism is true, would at His most basic level be 'inside' an overarching system. On the other hand, if God doesn't require an overarching system to interact with us, then I may be endangering my earlier argument concerning the necessity of God's non-equivalence to Nature. If I avoid the question by stating that God would not have a personal relationship with us, then I not only void my attempt at establishing a practical doctrine concerning true objective ethics (they might still exist between God and God, but would not concern us); I also risk introducing an inconsistency in God's love and justice, neither of which can be set aside.
Altogether, it's a serious problem, although an obscure one! But examining it does lead to a very interesting conclusion, I think.
If God ever happened to Incarnate or otherwise manifest Himself within Nature (a topic I will be returning to in the final Section), then certainly Nature would serve the purpose of being a common overarching system; but also the limitations of Nature would intervene, especially insofar as God Incarnate would be a specially distinct type of manifestation: the Incarnate God, by being manifested in that way, would be in one place (in that way), and not another, or perhaps could be in numerous discreet places. Yet the Incarnated God (as such) could not be everywhere within a Nature, all at once, as God Himself; or else Nature would be reverted to the status of God and we would be annihilated via absorption into the Absolute, which would negate any loving purpose to our creation in the first place. So, Nature would fit the bill as a proper overarching system in terms of God's Incarnation, even though otherwise ontologically subordinate to God. But due to the special limitations involved, I am not talking about Incarnation theories right now.
I am talking instead about personal contact of a somewhat different sort: the type of contact almost any theist insists that God either always has with every created person, or at least could have with a person, without God being Incarnated. I mean our contact with God as 'pure spirit'.
In that case, Nature cannot be the overarching system, for then it would be including God. This would be fine for an Incarnation, except I am not talking about that type of contact. An Incarnation would be a special case, a special self-abdication on God's part.
But I am considering God's usual mode of operation with respect to us; and Nature will not quite do as a mediant system for that. The question should be, rather: if persons do need an overarching system within which to communicate to each other as persons, what sort of overarching system normally encompasses God?
There are two answers. The first is that no system encompasses God; the consequent conclusion would be that therefore no personal communication between us as Person-to-person can follow. This would be another way of saying that on these terms such contact would be self-inconsistent, and God cannot be self-inconsistent. However, if I have argued correctly that some kind of personal contact with God must be taking place within us (otherwise there would be a violation of God's love, and perhaps also of His justice), then I think we should look at the second answer, for the first will not fit. It wouldn't fit even if we allowed for the existence of created supernatural mediators (existing in a reality supernatural to our own field of Nature, yet in contact with our system), for they would only put the question one stage further back for no gain: how did they manage to communicate personally with God? If there is some principle that would allow them to do this, I think we would be prudent to at least check to see whether we would fit under the same principle.
As it happens, I don't think I need to posit mediators to answer this question--although mediators could make contact with us for other purposes, perhaps. (I am not arguing against the existence of derivative mediators per se, whether “angels” or “demiurges” or other subordinate deities; only that their existence would not solve this problem.)
The second answer is to remember (if I am believing this correctly) that God is, Himself, a self-existent system: He is, at least, a self-begetting entity Who is a Person and thus (by being 'self-begetting') is at least Two Persons in Unity. Or, put another way, the answer to the question "What system encompasses God" is: God Self-Begetting and God Self-Begotten, as the Independent Fact of all reality, is Himself the encompassing system. Whether we consider the Father or the Son, all things are in Him (including all created things, “in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible”, even if there are many so-called gods and lords) and through Him and for Him, and by Him all things continue holding together.
So: can God, the basic self-existent foundation of reality, serve as the overarching system for interacting with us? I think this must be true, if He chooses to relate to us as Person to person; and I think it would be self-inconsistent of God not to relate to us in some fashion as Person to person.
But for this to happen, somehow it must also be true that at the level of God’s own fundamental reality as God, God must exist personally in a way that God is somehow encompassed by God. A Person of God would have to exist distinct from (but not substantially separate from) the Persons of God Self-Begetting and God Self-Begotten.
This would involve a second discovered distinction in God's eternal--that is, time-transcending--action. God, in personally interacting, as a Person, with all created persons everywhere, distinctly proceeds as God from God the (overarching) Foundation, just as God the Begotten personally distinct from God the Begettor; yet at the same time this Inter-acter will still be God, fully God, in the same way that the Son is in Unity with the Father as the one single Independent Fact of all reality.
I am, in short, deducing the existence of the Third Person of God--and now the Unity has reached a Trinity!
[Next up: an introduction to the 3rd Person of God]
[Note: the contents page for this series can be found here. The previous entry, concluding Chapter 36, can be found here.]
[This entry constitutes Chapter 37.]
Even though I still ended with a deadlock on a proposal of merely secular interpersonal ethics, I will reiterate here that I believe it is important to recognize, respect and appreciate the special strength of that theory. Despite its weaknesses, I consider this to be the best secular ethical theory on the market today; and I expect this, in one or another variation, to be the best that secular ethicists can ever really do.
‘And we don’t need God for it!’ the sceptic will emphasize.
Not on the face of it, no; but then again, as I noted in my previous chapter, there are aspects of the theory which, when followed out, might point toward our accepting the existence of God after all!
Which, in essence, is what I had done already, in the chapters before I began this section on ethics. So far, I have presented this section of chapters in a topical vacuum, without regard to arguments and conclusions I had already systematically reached; and I did that, in order to make clearer some of the issues at stake in the topic of ethical theory--far from least of which, were the problems involved in a theistic theory of ethics! Had I not proceeded in this fashion, those problems would have been far more difficult to clearly present. But then, neither could those problems be properly discussed without also contextualizing the topic of discovered rational ethics (exemplified as theistic ethical theory) amidst a discussion of other ethical theories and their claims--and problems.
Yet, my argument is a progressing synthetic metaphysic. And now it is time to go back to where I had left off, prior to beginning this discussion about ethics.
To summarize pertinent points that I had already concluded, then: the Independent Fact that grounds and produces all reality is rationally, personally active. God exists.
Most importantly (for the next part of my argument), God is the source of all existence, including His own. He must be self-grounding, self-generating. In order to distinguish His own generation from anything else He generates, we may say that God begets (not creates) Himself; for 'to beget' is a special category of generation: to create something of one's own sort.
In the case of the self-generating ground of all reality, His active generation of Himself is the ultimate possible type even of 'begetting': when God generates Himself, what He generates is infinitely more than only 'like' Himself: what God most fundamentally generates is Himself.
Yet there is an action line here, at the most primary and basic and fundamental action of God: His own self-generation.
On one side (I don’t mean physically so, of course), there is the intent of the action; on the other side is the result of the action, which at this most fundamental level is also substantially equivalent to the action itself (a property and characteristic unique to the Independent Fact of all reality). God the Father begets God the Son; both aspects are Personal, and yet they are also distinctive. And they exist as the ultimate Unity. The Son, the 2nd Person of God, is the Action, the Logos, the Living Word of the Father; I do not even need to refer to 'scriptural authority' to establish this (although Christian scripture does also use such imagery-terms.)
Very well; but so what?
I reply: it makes all the difference in the world.
The basic ground of all reality and of all subsequent creation (including derivative persons such as you and I) is itself, at its core, an inextricably fundamental interpersonal relationship: that of God to God: Father to Son and Son to Father.
I established this (assuming I have done it correctly, of course) in my previous section; before I got to the question of ethics. And now, here I am with a sticky problem; and yet also with the perfect means of solving it, already established on previous grounds as being an ontological necessity.
By going this route, I have avoided the muddle of trying to decide which of the three general 'explanations' of our ethical behavior 'must be true'. In fact, I do not even need to discount the first two theories as contributors to our behavior!--nor do I discount them, as contributors. But as non-ethical contributors.
Yet something does also exist that is objectively ethical, and that can be perceived and understood by us (even if imperfectly, for after all we are not omniscient ourselves).
God can be as the reliably objective standard for our interpersonal relationships, because His own existence, as the ground and source of all reality, is itself an interPersonal relationship. The Father does not betray the Son; the Son does not rebel against the Father. These two denials must be true, because it would be suicide for God (and all the rest of reality) if either of those things happened. God, as the ground of reality, is eternally self-consistent: He must be, in order for any single section of our natural 'time' to exist. Therefore His interPersonal relationships (Father to Son, Son to Father) will also be eternally self-consistent.
We can trust God, not merely as a metaphysical fact, but as a Person, because His own self-existence grounds the standard of trustworthy personal relationships. Of course, what we think He is going to do, and what He really does do, might be rather different; nevertheless, once we understand this, we can understand further that He is also ultimately trustworthy insofar as personal relationships are concerned, including His relationship to us.
There is a further corollary to be drawn: one I am ashamed to say very many of my brethren, even in the ostensibly Christian Church, ignore or defy.
This willed giving and re-giving on the part of both of God's Persons--the willed giving of reality and the willing giving of loyal gratitude back to the the giver--is the purest, most basic, even rawest instance of the action of love. From all eternity, the love of Father for Son and Son for Father provides for the Unity of deity; and the willed choice of interpersonal loyalty, of fair-togetherness, grounds the principles of positive justice. (Not incidentally, the Greek word normally Englished as “righteousness” in the Christian scriptures, literally means “fair-togetherness”.)
Love and justice are characteristics of God intrinsically, eternally; God is essentially love and justice; love and justice are indeed essentially the same thing at the most fundamental level of reality (love being the action and justice being the result); and neither one will ever, ever, ever be set aside!
God will never act in such a way that He sets aside His love 'to accomplish justice'; and He will never act in such a way that He sets aside His justice 'to fulfill His love'.
It is total nonsense to propose either sort of doctrine; that is, it is total nonsense for someone who accepts the interPersonal unity of God to propose such a thing.
Yet there are many doctrines, and interpretations of scripture, even in Christian Churches--the believers who are supposed to accept and understand and promote and proclaim the implications of God's interPersonal Unity, being baptized in the (singular) Name of the Father and of the Son (and of the Holy Spirit, multiple in Persons but singular in Name), and making disciples of other people in the baptism of that Name--which when followed out result in a claim that God (despite uniquely and specifically “Christian” doctrine) sets aside His love, or His justice, or both. (Or, many such doctrines begin with this schism as a presumption; and so reach such conclusions. The conclusions must be false either way, if even binitarian theism is true.)
I will not go into examples of those doctrines here; but here is the place to establish and announce the refutation of those contradictions. Whatever God does to me, even though He slays me, once I understand this, I can know to the marrow of my bones that God will not ever take an action that does not somehow satisfy, or does not lead somehow to the satisfaction of, both His love and His justice for me--and for you, my reader!
(If, as you read this, numerous evident injustices suddenly occur to you--very good! Keep those in mind; even if they seem like evidence against my conclusion here. I will be discussing such things soon.)
As I noted a moment ago, I am by this extension arguing that God must be the objective ethical standard. But must we be capable of detecting the principles of that standard in some fashion? Is it necessary that we are capable of doing this?
To go against the principles of this 'behavior of reality' (even if we wish to speak of it in such an impersonal way) would be to minimize our efficiency at dealing with reality, especially in terms of our relationships to each other as derivative persons: your and my relationship with each other as person to person, can only be a shadow or subtype of the interPersonal relationship that (or rather Who) created us in the first place.
Therefore, I think it would be necessarily contrary to God's love (and thus also to His justice, which is at least the positive enactment toward the fulfillment of interpersonal fair-togetherness) for Him to prevent us from perceiving something of the principles of love and justice. This would be doubly true if God decided to relate to us Himself, Person to person.
Would God relate to us as Person to person? I am not entirely sure that He could avoid it if He wanted to! His own interpersonal relationship is the cause of our being here at all; His omniscience guarantees that He knows what we think and know, as persons; His omnipresence guarantees that there is no mode of existence in which we could even possibly exist, where God would not be present with us.
(My reader may be aware that this doctrine is occasionally and strangely yet insistently denied, as a routine doctrinal matter, by some theologians, Christian and otherwise, who elsewhere would just as insistently affirm God’s omnipresence! But I shall not deny it.)
To create derivative persons, and then refuse to deal with us as persons, would be for God to refuse to love, which simply will not happen. And to create us yet then refuse to ever relate to us as being a Person Himself, is even worse nonsense.
He might create us and then, for some reason, He might temporarily mask Himself, so that what we see of Him does not seem to us to be a Person at all. Considering the prevalence of religion throughout history, this does not seem entirely feasible to me as a historical fact; but I think I can allow the technical possibility that God might completely mask His personhood from us as a species, regardless of other factors. What I insist is that He would not do this forever. If any given person never came to know God as a Person, that would be a fundamental breach of love on God's part.
The person might of course decide to rebel against God, however much of Him she knows; but that does not change God's self-imposed (indeed self-existant!) duty to relate to individual people as a Person.
Besides, one cannot 'rebel' consciously against something without attributing personhood (merely imagined or otherwise) to that something. We do not 'rebel' against impersonal Nature; we work within it and accomplish our goals. Impersonal Nature does not 'want' to keep us from flying; we figured out how to fly, but not literally "despite" Nature. We discovered more of Nature's character and worked within Nature to accomplish this (natural) goal.
But a person might decide that God would prefer such-and-such not to happen, and then the person might go ahead and do it anyway.
I assure you a person can do this, because I affirm that I am a sinner.
This immediately raises the question: why does God allow me to sin?
This is a version of the more-simply-put question: why does evil exist? I think it is a much more useful and helpful variation than the merely simple form, but I will be deferring the topic a little longer. At the moment, I wish to examine another potential problem.
Back in Section Three, I was inferring some of the relationships between you and I and Nature and God. At the time, I maintained that for you and I to interact as persons, we needed a common overarching system--which Nature does happen to provide. My especially perceptive reader may consequently have asked a very pertinent question: Does not God, as a Person, also require a common overarching system for interacting with us?
In other words, even if it seems necessary for us to interact with God person-to-Person, in order for God's love and justice to be fulfilled, doesn't the notion I used earlier render such a relationship impossible--thus sinking a whole hunk of my argument?
The answer to this question shall also provide a bit more information to work with, including in connection to the whole question of evil. So to this rather more obscure (but extremely important) question I will turn first.
[Next up: procession and the overarching system]
[Note: the contents page for this series can be found here. The previous entry, starting Chapter 36, can be found here.]
[This entry concludes Chapter 36, "Discovered Rational Secular Ethics?"]
[I ended the previous portion by writing, "It should be noted... that this [special secular humanistic ethical] proposition... emphasizes personal responsibilities and choices, while at least ideally minimizing (or even avoiding?) the problems involved with self-centered pragmatism. It also emphasizes rational discovery by rational entities, just like the second theory, while avoiding (completely?) the problem of non-rationality of the source of ethics under the second theory. And it coheres with our intuitions regarding interpersonal relationships being the basis of ethics, in a way that monotheistic ethical grounding simply fails to do. [...] I think any accounting that doesn’t recognize and appreciate the serious strengths of this notion, will be fundamentally crippled when it comes time to consider whether the notion should be opposed."]
But, is this notion, of avowedly interpersonal human relationships, sufficient for objectively ethical grounding?
It may be noticed that this secular, humanistic theory is not in fact judged to be sufficient by any explicit proponent of pragmatic invented ethics and/or discovered non-rational ethics! But then again, is the mere observation of dissent among the secular ranks, something to be inextricably held against a particular theory among those ranks? I would instantly undercut any theistic theory of my own, on a precisely identical ground, if I attempted to appeal to such a mere complaint. For after all, there are religious disagreements as well, are there not?--and far more in number of disagreements, too! Not that any mere appeal to numbers would carry legitimate philosophical weight in this regard, but the point is that the principle for the complaint would be the same in either case. Moreover, an appeal to such a principle could only escape being applied to all disagreements on any topic, by either ignorance, incompetence, or (to put it bluntly) cheating.
Still, neither should the disagreements simply be ignored as if they don’t exist. Perhaps they exist because the proponents detect some viable problems with this special variant of the first general theory.
Indeed, I find, as I consider the issue, that as attractive as this special variant looks, it proceeds by ignoring some fundamental recognitions; especially insofar as the theory excludes reference to the ground of reality on which we depend for our existence.
If one is a naturalist, for instance, then the question can only be avoided for so long, as to whether our behaviors are not only and ultimately the amoral interactions of particles, elements, molecules, compounds, intercellular structures... how far up the chain of causation do we go before we can realistically state that a behavior is moral and not amoral?--not amoral like all those other numerous foundational behaviors which not only underwrite but (on any merely secular theory of ethics) actually comprise the ostensibly ‘moral’ behavior?
A theistic naturalist might have some escape from this, perhaps. Or perhaps not, if theistic naturalism falls foul of the fatal problem with the third general ethical theory! But in practice I notice that theistic naturalism (i.e. pantheism) usually either ends up appealing to flat contradiction (for example behaviors are both fundamentally moral and also fundamentally amoral), which the non-theistic naturalist could propose just as easily (or rather as worthlessly), or else ends up proposing an ultimate subjectivism of apparent ‘moral value’ anyway. There seems to be no way out for the naturalist by this route.
Nor again, can the matter be simply indefinitely postponed by a positive agnostic. (A negative agnostic would be trying to undercut all theories, on general principle, and so would be unable and even unwilling to positively offer a solution anyway.) A choice is being made to leave certain ontological proposals out of the account; but whatever reality is, it really is affecting us! More to the point, the moment an agnostic avers that all we need to do is consider human interpersonal behaviors specifically without reference to grounding realities, a claim of truth is being implicitly (and maybe explicitly) made: whatever it is that we are dependent on, is not contributing to our ‘ethical’ behaviors in any significant way. But a moment’s thought will show, that even aside from the numerous and grave implausibilities involved in denying that the ground of our behaviors is of no account in accounting for our behaviors, the agnostic will have had to have judged the underwriting ontological options already and found them to be of no regard in the matter (regardless of whatever option happens to be true.)
But if this could be done (and aside from immediate implausibilities at reaching such a conclusion, I will assume for purposes of argument that it could perhaps be done), the level of judgment involved would seem suspiciously deep--so deep that I would begin to wonder why the proponent was still an agnostic about the truth of any of those options.
In any case, I think a proponent of the second class of ethical theories, would join me in agreeing, that the proponent of this special theory of interpersonal human ethics can only be dodging the question of constituent dependency: what good (pun intended!) does it do, to either ignore that all our behaviors are ultimately amoral in constituency, or else to claim that that the actual ground of our behaviors isn’t relevant to the quality of our behaviors?
‘Admittedly then,’ this special proponent may reply, ‘we face the fact that our natural behaviors must at bottom be amoral (especially insofar as we who defend this theory are naturalists and/or atheists.) But that is precisely why we...!’
Why you what? Sheerly invent an ethical standard that you pretend to objectively appeal to?! The pragmatist can do that just as well!--but no one who understands what the pragmatist is doing will for a moment agree that the pragmatist’s sheer assertion of what should count as right and wrong can carry any actual ethical weight.
‘Admittedly that is also true,’ the interpersonal secular ethicist may again reply. ‘However, the fault with the more general first-theory proponent is that there is a discontinuity between his procedure, and what we agree to make the most sense as a definition of ethics: the logic of interpersonal relationships. As you yourself agree, the ethical pragmatist is only incidentally involved with inter-personal relationships.
‘But we are building this notion in from the first! And what we are building from, is not some sheer invention or posit of our own! Other people do exist; there is no real dispute between opponents about their existence (in Western societies anyway). Unlike the existence of God, not-incidentally! If ethics is to be accepted and applied as the logic of interpersonal relationships, then very well: we start with people and their interrelationships--people whom we are willing to accept exist. If their interrelationships are valid in a mutually supporting way, then the behaviors are moral; if not, then if by accident the behaviors are amoral, and if the invalidity is on purpose the behaviors are immoral. Where is the problem in this?!’
The first and possibly chiefest problem I can think of, is a problem that some of my readers may have been long complaining about since the start of this section of chapters on ethics:
Why exactly should we accept ]that definition of ethics!?
‘But...! Because...! Well, you did!’
True, and I was glad to perceive that this would be widely accepted as being a proper definition; but I have ulterior reasons for doing so, too--reasons I haven’t yet mentioned, and which will become more evident soon. Meanwhile, your reasons for promoting that definition are... what?
‘Well, it’s just common sense!’
Not that I tend to disagree with this; I mean, I tend to agree that this position is (strictly speaking) common sense. But by itself, this doesn’t really help the situation. ‘Common sense’ isn’t always correct!--and not everyone agrees with ‘common sense’. Certainly no atheist could consistently make a root appeal on this ground, for atheism has not been regarded as ‘common sense’, but rather some kind of theism, by the vastly overwhelming majority of humanity past and present! Or again, to give an example an atheist may better prefer, most of humanity including its brightest scholars considered geocentrism to be common sense for most of human history. But they happened to be wrong.
I don’t mean to disparage common sense; and I can admit that there is a tantalizing inducement to specially accept it, in this special case: for after all, an appeal to ‘common sense’ must be closely related to exactly the ethical ground this proponent wishes to promote. What else is ‘common sense’, if not an interpersonal agreement?!--and one with some wide scope as well!
Even so, if the ground is the sheer assertion of a group of people, no matter how large, even if the group is a total of the population (which in this case it isn’t, by the way), the ground is still only a sheer assertion. Is there a ground for doing so beyond the sheerly asserted will-to-agree of a group?
If not (and by the terms of the theory there couldn’t possibly be such grounds), then what happens when another group, even if that group is only one in number of members, intends to will-to-agree another idea about what counts as morality?
It is still only the clan (in this case the intellectual clan perhaps) writ large; still only a might makes right philosophy. The only advantage is that this sheerly invented ethic would have the strength of group cooperation over-against a competitor. That may seem, and even be, reassuring in some ways; but it isn’t a necessity of reality.
To which the second theorist (along with the third) may also add, completely aside from the whole question of whether it pays in the end to disregard (one way or another) the ontological ground that is underwriting our existence and behaviors: this first group of ethical theorists, whether the self-centered pragmatists or the group who is ‘For The Greater Good’ (in the sense of numerically ‘greater’), had better more closely attend to the tacit claims they are making about themselves in trying to make this attempt at a root appeal. For, when they (the first theorists) make this appeal, it quite completely relies on their complicit recognition that they (and we as other humans) somehow transcend our environment, and not only in some convenient illusion. But this is an ontological claim in itself!--and yet the first theorists would have us ignore or discount ontology bases in our accounting of ethical grounding! After a while, this can only begin to look as though the point to ignoring ontology is so the first theorists can set themselves up, to be treated as the ontological ground themselves by hidden default. This begins to look diabolic!--it isn’t only unrealistic, it ends up being anti-realistic!
And so the deadlock continues. Or rather, the deadlock continues if what we attempt to do is start from the question of ethics. Which is what I have done in this section so far, and which is why I have done so.
But, I was doing something else, and had arrived at certain conclusions already, before I began this section of chapters. Now it is time to go back to where I arrived at the end of Section Three (the previous section), and continue with the progressive synthetic argument from there--but now with a clearer eye toward the issues at stake when the time has arrived (as it had at the end of the previous section) to begin discussing relationships between persons.
[Next up: returning to the God of Justice]