Thursday, December 04, 2008

An Excerpt from a letter to an atheist.

As to the argument over whether the God of Hebrew and Christian scriptures is anthropomorphic, of course I would argue that the converse is true: we are a theomorphic people (Gen 1:26) in a certain sense. As such, the direction of who is representing whom is reversed. For example, I say that we do we not represent our relationship with God as familial in imitation of the human family, but rather that the human relationship of a father to his children is but a pale imitation of the relationship of God the Father to ourselves. I would like that to settle the matter, but, as our experience of family is apt (outside private revelation) to be entirely human, it's really a more difficult argument than that--or rather two: one, a theological argument, whether an unknowable act of pure existence is also a personal God (we ourselves being persons in that mode); and the other, a philosophical, whether it is possible to communicate any real truth about something of which we can have no experience using equivocal language--i.e. whether analogy has meaning in theology.

About the second argument a couple of things can be said. First, very simply, that we treat as metaphorical all scriptural passages that treat the Divine Nature as human. That said, the second Person of the Godhead became true Man, and so we may treat His human nature in literal language. The upshot: God's right hand (Acts 7:55, 1 Pet 3:22) entirely metaphorical; Jesus' sweat and tears (Lk 22:44, Jn 11:35) absolutely literal. The second point is that to the extent that Scripture is able to communicate any truth about God whatsoever, it must be inspired. So if the atheist is correct (there is no God), the question is moot; but if God exists, we can ask to what extent the Bible is true when talking about God. That truth, then, can only have flowed in one direction (discounting blind lucky guessing). If I've shown what's at stake in the metaphor argument, unfortunately I'm no nearer to answering the argument whether equivocal language about God is not always utterly equivocal, but can be analogical. Needless to say I must answer this in the affirmative or abandon my Faith, and I believe Aquinas does treat it somewhere (this I have only from a faint recollection of a book about St. Thomas I read a while back), but I can't reproduce his argument here. I can only defend my position to this point: that it is not unreasonable absent other assumptions about God, and that it is entirely plausible should God prove to be a personal God.

On that first argument, I'm in even greater difficulty. Not only is it more difficult conceptually, but if I lose the second argument, the first cannot be put at all since we then have no language for it. Once more I can't prove my position but would hope to show it credible. The problem is this. We see the world around us as ordered and purposeful and we want to see what's behind that. We look for causes and causes of causes and we arrive at a first cause. At the same time, we perceive our own imperfection (as meaningful or meaningless a concept as perfection is) and weakness and we want to reach up to someone (not something): our father, and thence the Father to whom our father reaches--for comfort and aid. The myths of our traditions tell us of our ancestors who reached up and were met, and so we hope. But then we attempt to intellectualize our searching and our longing and we find that what we were looking at was an uncaused cause, and a big daddy in the sky. The first is impossible, the second fairly ridiculous and together they're irreconcilable. If we're smart, we reject God and we're left with man, an island of intelligibility--and that just by fluke--in a vast cold universe of nonsense.

Alas, that doesn't square with reality either, for it is not only man who is intelligible, but the universe itself--indeed, with God on the lam and the soul in abeyance, the question of where man leaves off and the universe begins has become problematic. But every strange green quark here or ten thousand trillion miles away is intelligible--a fact, a knowable bundle of information with a course and a history. She spins; she dances with her spouse and her distant cousins, too, perhaps. It’s nuts, it’s so wonderful. Forget about Intelligent Designists' and Creation Scientists' probabilities that there should be life in the universe absent a creator; simply, it is immensely more meet that there should be nothing than something. And that every particle of that something should be intelligible and communicative is just as ridiculous as our big daddy in the sky. But by now we've lost hope--the myths must be false--so we let it sit.

But if Moses heard correctly and God says "I AM", if St. Thomas figured rightly and God is the Act of pure existence, then both sides do meet. As pure existence he can beget existence--He can be the First Cause and there needn't be a cause for Him because He is not an essential thing but an eternal act. As pure existence He contains all knowledge, and the procession of the self-knowledge of all knowledge is the eternal begetting of the Word. But now the begetter and the begotten both become Knower and Known and that is, at base, what a person is: a known knower. The relationship between Father and Son is one of knowledge but of more than knowledge, because it must be one of complete giving of Self--sacrifice, but a fecund not a painful sacrifice. Once more, this Act is the Spirit. We have now a triune, personal, creative God, to Whom (intellectually) we can't get from here. Still, He verifies our sense of order and our search for cause and He confirms that our myths are true (in import if not detail). And isn't that even more fitting than a god perceivable by the intellect? If I may: If religion were a thing that schoolin' could supply; then the smart would live, and the dumb would die. But even the very intelligent can recognize that knowledge doesn't save; that is to say smart and dumb alike can know that God is unknowable, only the proud need insist on maintaining the false dichotomy: knowable or false.

No comments:

About Me

My photo
I'd be a blackguard and a cad, if I weren't so ineffectual. The less said "About Me", the better.