Ethics and the Third Person -- Returning to the God of Justice

[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]


Jason Pratt said…
God is love.

Happy Valentine's Day. {s!}

(I'm pretty sure Saint Valentine would approve... {lol!})


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