Ethics and the Third Person -- some requirements for personal interaction

[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]


Jason Pratt said…
[Footnote from where marked above]

An Incarnation takes place within a natural system subordinate to God, and makes use of natural system properties. The rational action of God does exist 'everywhere at once' (the action is what creates an 'everywhere' and an 'at once' to exist!); but the action Incarnate (or less specially manifested) cannot exist everywhere in a natural system at once without the system reverting to pantheism, thus undoing the creation of the system as such.

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