Wednesday, June 30, 2010

The Nature of Biblical Revelation


Atheists on the internet are always talking about contradictions in the Bible. These alleged contradictions fall into many categories. Most can be extinguished simply by remembering that all language had connotative meanings and all good writing uses literary devices, but many are based upon an inadequate understanding of the nature of divine revelation.

The problem with the notions of revelation in the Christian tradition is that they don't really conform to the earthly or human idea of what revelation should be. The human notion can be seen with the Book of Mormon—handed down from angels on high on Gold tablets—or the Koran—dictated by an Angel who grabbed Mohammed by the throat and forced him to write. The human notion tells us that there should be no mistakes, no problems, and the revelation should be ushered in with fanfare and pomp, clear and indisputable. But that is not the way of many religious traditions, and certainly not Christianity. There are problems, and even though most of them are conceived by ignorant people (most of the Internet atheists claims to "contradictions in the Bible" are based largely on not understanding metaphor or literary devices), there are some real problems and they are thorny. There are even more problems when it comes to the historicity of the text. But the important thing to note is that the revelations of the Christian faith are passed through human vessels. They contain human problems, and they are passed on safeguarded through human testimony. Even if the eye-witness nature of the individual authors of the NT cannot be established, the testimony of the community as a whole can be. The NT and its canon is a community event. It was a community at large that produced the Gospels, that passed on the Testimony and that created the canon. This communal nature of the revelation guarantees, if not individual authenticity, at least a sort of group validation, that a whole bunch of people as a community attest to these books and this witness.

The Traditional view of "Inerrancy."

Most people tend to think in terms of all or nothing, black and white, true and false. So when they think about the Bible, they think it's either all literally true in every word or it can't be "inspired." This is not only a fallacy, but it is not even the "traditional" view. Even in the inherency camp there exists three differing views of exactly what is inerrant and to what extent. Oddly enough, the notion of verbal inspiration was invented in the Renaissance by Humanists! Yes, the dreaded enemy of humanism actually came up with the doctrine of inerrancy which didn't exist before the 19th century, in its current form, but which actually began in the Renaissance with humanists. The documentation on this point comes mainly from Avery Dulles, Models of Revelation, New York: Double Day, 1985. The humanist argument is documented on p. 36. He also demonstrates that the current Evangelical view basically dates form the 19th century, the Princeton movement, and people such as Benjamin Warfield (1851-1921). Proponents of this view include Carl C.F. Henry, Clark Pinnock, James I Packer, Francis Shaffer, Charles Warwick Montgomery, and others.

Dulles Lists Five Versions of Inerrancy.

*Inerrency of original autographs and divine protection of manuscripts.
Proponents of this view include Harold Lindsell.

Inspiration of autographs with minor mistakes in transmission of an unessential kind.
Carl C.F. Henry.

*Inerrency of Textual intention without textual specifics.
Clark Pinnock.

*Inerrancy in Soteric (salvation) knowledge but not in historical or scientific matters.
Bernard Ramm

*Inerrent in major theological assertions but not in religion or morality.
Donald Blosche and Paul K. Jewett

Basic Models of Revelation:

Dulles presents five models of revelation, but the faith model really amounts to little more than "the Bible helps you feel good," so I am presenting only four. This core summery will not come close to doing justice to these views. But time and space limitations do not allow a discourse that would do them justice.

Revelation as History:

The Events themselves are inspired but not the text. John Ballie, David Kelsey, James Barr. This view can include oral events; the inspiration of the prophets, the early kerygma of the church (C.H. Dodd) Creedal formulation, as well as historical events such as the atonement. This view was largely held by a flood of theologians up to the 1960s. According to this view the Bible is the record of revelation not revelation itself.

Revelation as Inner Experience:

This view would include mystical experience and views such as Frederich Schleiermacher's feeling of utter dependence (see argument III on existence of God). Religious doctrines are verbalizations of the feeling; the intuitive sense of the radical contingency of all things upon the higher aegis of their existence; part of the religious a priori.

Revelation as Doctirne:

This is the basic doctrine of inerrancy as stated above. In most cases it is believed that the autographs were inspired but some allow for mistakes in transmission and other inaccuracies of an inconsequential nature. This means that 90% of the criticisms made my atheists and skeptics on the internet don't count, because most of them turn on metaphorical use of language or scribal error. I take this position based upon personal experience on many apologetic boards.

Revelation as Dialectical Presence:

The view that there is a dialectical relation between the reader and the text. The Bible contains the word of God and it becomes the word of God for us when we encounter it in transformative way. Karl Barth is an example of a major theologian who held this view.

No one of these views is really adequate. I urge a view based upon all of them. In some sense, that is, the Bible manifests versions of each of these views. So it is not just governed by one revelatory model, but is made of redacted material which exhibits all of these views. For example, the prophets spoke from their experience of God--their inner experience of God's prompting. Their words are recorded as the books of the prophets in the Bible. The Biblical prophetic books are then the written record of the inner experience of these men. The Gospels exhibit all of these tendencies. Passed on from oral tradition, redacted by members of the communities which passed on the traditions, they represent the written record of the events of Christ's life and ministry. In that sense the events themselves were inspired. But Jesus teachings, which we can assume were transmitted accurately for the most part, represent the word actually spoken by Jesus, and thus by God's perfect revelation to humanity. Jesus is the revelation; the Gospels are merely the written record of that revelation passed on by the Apostles to the communities. Thus we see both the event model and the revelation as doctrine model (traditional view). In the Epistles we see the inner-experience model clearly as Paul, for example, did not know that he was writing the New Testament. He demonstrates confusion at points, as when (in I Corinthians) he didn't recall how many of Stephan’s household he had baptized, but when it came to his answers on doctrinal matters he wrote out of the inner-experience of God. We can also assume that the redactions occurred in relation to some sort of inner-experience, they reflect some divine guidance in the sense that the redactors are reflecting their own experiences of God.

I know these views sound wildly radical to most Christians, but they are based on the works of major theologians, including those of the most conservative schools. The dialectical model is vague and sounds unimpressive. It really seems to be tautological statement: the word of God becomes meaningful when we encounter it in a meaningful way. Therefore, I adopt a model of revelation based upon all four models (granting that we do encounter it in more meaningful ways at some times than at others, but provided we understand that this is not saying that it ceases to be the word of God when we don't so encounter it), and of the doctrinal model accepting the views that say inerrant in intent but not specific transmission. The transmission includes some mistakes but of a minor kind.

"The Bible is Just Mythology"

The most radical view will be that of mythology in the Bible. This is a difficult concept for most Christians to grasp, because most of us are taught that "myth" means a lie, that it's a dirty word, an insult, and that it is really debunking the Bible or rejecting it as God's word. The problem is in our understanding of myth. "Myth" does not mean lie; it does not mean something that is necessarily untrue. It is a literary genre—a way of telling a story. In Genesis, for example, the creation story and the story of the Garden are mythological. They are based on Babylonian and Sumerian myths that contain the same elements and follow the same outlines. But three things must be noted: 1) Myth is not a dirty word, not a lie. Myth is a very healthy thing. 2) The point of the myth is the point the story is making--not the literal historical events of the story. So the point of mythologizing creation is not to transmit historical events but to make a point. We will look more closely at these two points. 3) I don't assume mythology in the Bible out of any tendency to doubt miracles or the supernatural, I believe in them. I base this purely on the way the text is written.

The purpose of myth is often assumed to be the attempt of unscientific or superstitious people to explain scientific facts of nature in an unscientific way. That is not the purpose of myth. A whole new discipline has developed over the past 60 years called "history of religions." Its two major figures are C.G. Jung and Marcea Eliade. In addition to these two, another great scholarly figure arises in Carl Kerenyi. In addition to these three, the scholarly popularizer Joseph Champbell is important. Champell is best known for his work The Hero with A Thousand Faces. This is a great book and I urge everyone to read it. Champbell, and Elliade both disliked Christianity intensely, but their views can be pressed into service for an understanding of the nature of myth. Myth is, according to Champbell a cultural transmission of symbols for the purpose of providing the members of the tribe with a sense of guidance through life. They are psychological, not explanatory of the physical world. This is easily seen in their elaborate natures. Why develop a whole story with so many elements when it will suffice as an explanation to say "we have fire because Prometheus stole it form the gods?" For example, Champell demonstrates in The Hero that heroic myths chart the journey of the individual through life. They are not explanatory, but clinical and healing. They prepare the individual for the journey of life; that's why in so many cultures we meet the same hero over and over again; because people have much the same experiences as they journey though life, gaining adulthood, talking their place in the group, marriage, children, old age and death. The hero goes out, he experiences adventures, he proves himself, he returns, and he prepares the next hero for his journey. We meet this over and over in mythology.

In Kerenyi's essays on a Science of Mythology we find the two figures of the maiden and the Krone. These are standard figures repeated throughout myths of every culture. They serve different functions, but are symbolic of the same woman at different times in her life. The Krone is the enlightener, the guide, the old wise woman who guides the younger into maidenhood. In Genesis we find something different. Here the Pagan myths follow the same outline and contain many of the same characters (Adam and Adapa—see, Cornfeld Archaeology of the Bible 1976). But in Genesis we find something different. The chaotic creation story of Babylon is ordered and the source of creation is different. Rather than being emerging out of Tiamot (chaos) we find "in the beginning God created the heavens and the earth." Order is imposed. We have a logical and orderly progression (as opposed to the Pagan primordial chaos). The seven days of creation represent perfection and it is another aspect of order, seven periods, the seventh being rest. Moreover, the point of the story changes. In the Babylonian myth the primordial chaos is the ages of creation, and there is no moral overtone, the story revolves around other things. This is a common element in mythology, a world in which the myths happen, mythological time and place. All of these elements taken together are called Myths, and every mythos has a cosmogony, an explanation of creation and being (I didn't say there were no explanations in myth.). We find these elements in the Genesis story, Cosmogony included. But, the point of the story becomes moral: it becomes a story about man rebelling against God, the entrance of sin into the world. So the Genesis account is a literary rendering of pagan myth, but it stands that myth on its head. It is saying God is the true source of creation and the true point is that life is about knowing God.

The mythological elements are more common in the early books of the Bible. The material becomes more historical as we go along. How do we know? Because the mythical elements of the first account immediately drop away. Elements such as the talking serpent, the timeless time ("in the beginning"), the firmament and other aspects of the myth all drop away. The firmament was the ancient world's notion of the world itself. It was a flat earth set upon angular pillars, with a dome over it. On the inside of the dome stars were stuck on, and it contained doors in the dome through which snow and rain could be forced through by the gods (that's why Genesis says "he divided the waters above the firmament from the waters below”). We are clearly in a mythological world in Genesis. The Great flood is mythology as well, as all nations have their flood myths. But as we move through the Bible things become more historical.

The NT is not mythological at all. The Resurrection of Christ is an historical event and can be argued as such (see Resurrection page). Christ is a flesh and blood historical person who can be validated as having existed. The resurrection is set in an historical setting, names, dates, places are all historically verifiable and many have been validated. So the major point I'm making is that God uses myth to communicate to humanity. The mythical elements create the sort of psychological healing and force of literary strength and guidance that any mythos conjures up. God is novelist, he inspires myth. That is to say, the inner experience model led the redactors to remake ancient myth with a divine message. But the Bible is not all mythology; in fact most of it is an historical record and has been largely validated as such.

The upshot of all of this is that there is no need to argue evolution or the great flood. Evolution is just a scientific understanding of the development of life. It doesn't contradict the true account because we don't have a "true" scientific account. In Genesis, God was not trying to write a science text book. We are not told how life developed after creation. That is a point of concern for science not theology.

How do we know the Bible is the Word of God? Not because it contains big amazing miracle prophecy fulfillments, not because it reveals scientific information which no one could know at the time of writing, but for the simplest of reasons. Because it does what religious literature should do, it is transformative.

All religions seek to do three things.

All religions seek to do three things:
a) to identify the human problematic,
b) to identify an ultimate transformative experience (UTE) which resolves the problematic, and
c) to mediate between the two.
But not all religions are equal. All are relative to the truth but not all are equal. Some mediate the UTE better than others, or in a more accessible way than others. Given the foregoing, my criteria are that:
1) a religious tradition reflect a human problematic which is meaningful in terms of the what we find in the world.

2) the UTE be found to really resolve the problematic

3) it mediates the UTE in such a way as to be effective and accessible.

4) its putative and crucial historical claims be historically probable given the ontological and epistemological assumptions that are required within the inner logic of that belief system.

5) it be consistent with itself and with the external world in a way that touches these factors.
These mean that I am not interested in piddling Biblical contradictions such as how many women went to the tomb, ect. but in terms of the major claims of the faith as they touch the human problematic and its resolution.

How Does the Bible fulfill these criteria? First, what is the Bible? Is it a rule book? Is it a manual of discipline? Is it a science textbook? A history book? No it is none of these. The Bible, the Canon, the NT in particular, is a means of bestowing Grace. What does that mean? It means first, it is not an epistemology! It is not a method of knowing how we know, nor is it a history book. It is a means of coming into contact with the UTE mentioned above. This means that the primary thing it has to do to demonstrate its veracity is not be accurate historically, although it is that in the main; but rather, its task is to connect one to the depository of truth in the teachings of Jesus such that one is made open to the ultimate transformative experience. Thus the main thing the Bible has to do to fulfill these criteria is to communicate this transformation. This can only be judged phenomenologically. It is not a matter of proving that the events are true, although there are ensconces where that becomes important.

Thus the main problem is not the existence of these piddling so-called contradictions (and my experience is 90% of them stem from not knowing how to read a text), but rather the extent to which the world and life stack up to the picture presented as a fallen world, engaged in the human problematic and transformed by the light of Christ. Now that means that the extent to which the problematic is adequately reflected, that being sin, separation from God, meaninglessness, the wages of sin, the dregs of life, and so forth, vs. the saving power of God's grace to transform life and change the direction in which one lives to face God and to hope and future. This is something that cannot be decided by the historical aspects or by any objective account. It is merely the individual's problem to understand and to experience. That is the nature of what religion does and the extent to which Christianity does it more accessibly and more efficaciously is the extent to which it should be seen as valid.

The efficacy is not an objective issue either, but the fact that only a couple of religions in the world share the concept of Grace should be a clue. No other religion (save Pure Land Buddhism) have this notion. For all the others there is a problem of one's own efforts. The Grace mediates and administrates through Scriptures is experienced in the life of the believer, and can be found also in prayer, in the sacraments and so forth.

Where the historical questions should enter into it are where the mediation of the UTE hedges upon these historical aspects. Obviously the existence of Jesus of Nazareth would be one, his death on the cross another. The Resurrection of course, doctrinally is also crucial, but since that cannot be established in an empirical sense, seeing as no historical question can be, we must use historical probability. That is not blunted by the minor discrepancies in the number of women at the tomb or who got there first. That sort of thinking is to think in terms of a video documentary. We expect the NT to have the sort of accuracy we find in a court room because we are moderns and we watch too much television. The number of women and when they got to the tomb etc. does not have a bearing on whether the tomb actually existed, was guarded and was found empty. Nor does it really change the fact that people claimed to have seen Jesus after his death alive and well and ascending into heaven. We can view the different strands of NT witness as separate sources, since they were not written as one book, but by different authors at different times and brought together later.

The historicity of the NT is a logical assumption given the nature of the works. We can expect that the Gospels will be polemical. We do not need to assume, however, that they will be fabricated from whole cloth. They are the product of the communities that redacted them. That is viewed as a fatal weakness in fundamentalist circles, tantamount to saying that they are lies. But that is silly. In reality there is no particular reason why the community cannot be a witness. The differences in the accounts are produced by either the ordering of periscopes to underscore various theological points or the use of witnesses who fanned out through the various communities and whose individual view points make up the variety of the text. This is not to be confused with contradiction simply because it reflects differences in individual's view points and distracts us from the more important points of agreement; the tomb was empty, the Lord was seen risen, there were people who put there hands in his nail prints, etc.

The overall question about Biblical contradiction goes back to the basic nature of the text. What sort of text is it? Is it a Sunday school book? A science text book? A history book? And how does inspiration work? The question about the nature of inspiration is the most crucial. This is because the basic notion of the fundamentalists is that of verbal plenary inspiration. If we assume that this is the only sort of inspiration than we have a problem. One mistake and verbal plenary inspiration is out the window. The assumption that every verse is inspired and every word is true comes not from the Church fathers or from the Christian tradition. It actually starts with Humanists in the Renaissance and finds its final development in the 19th century with people like J. N. Drably and Warfield. (see, Avery Dulles Models of Revelation).

One of my major reasons for rejecting this model of revelation is because it is not true to the nature of transformation. Verbal plenary inspiration assumes that God uses authors like we use pencils or like businessmen use secretaries, to take dictation (that is). But why should we assume that this is the only form of inspiration? Only because we have been conditioned by American Christianity to assume that this must be the case. This comes from the Reformation's tendency to see the Bible as epistemology rather than as a means of bestowing grace (see William Abraham, Canon and Criterion). Why should be approach the text with this kind of baggage? We should approach it, not assuming that Moses et al. were fundamentalist preachers, but that they experienced God in their lives through the transformative power of the Spirit and that their writings and redactions are a reflection of this experience. That is more in keeping with the nature of religion as we find it around the world. That being the case, we should have no problem with finding that mythology of Babylonian and Suzerain cultures are used in Genesis, with the view toward standing them on their heads, or that some passages are idealized history that reflect a nationalistic agenda. But the experiences of God come through in the text in spite of these problems because the text itself, when viewed in dialectical relation between reader and text (Barth/Dulles) does bestow grace and does enable transformation.

After all the Biblical texts were not written as "The Bible" but were complied from a huge voluminous body of works which were accepted as scripture or as "holy books" for quite some time before they were collected and put in a single list and even longer before they were printed as one book: the Bible. Therefore, that this book may contradict itself on some points is of no consequence. Rather than reflecting dictation, or literal writing as though the author was merely a pencil in the hands of God, what they really reflect is the record of people's experiences of God in their lives and the way in which those experiences suggested their choice of material/redaction. In short, inspiration of scripture is a product of the transformation afore mentioned. It is the verbalization of inner-experience which mediates grace, and in turn it mediates grace itself.

The Bible is not the Perfect Revelation of God to humanity. Jesus is that perfect revelation. The Gospels are merely the record of Jesus' teachings, deposited with the communities and encoded for safe keeping in the list chosen through Apostolic backing to assure Christian identity. For that matter the Bible as a whole is a reflection of the experience of transformation and as such, since it was the product of human agents we can expect it to have human flaws. The extent to which those flaws are negligible can be judge the ability of that deposit of truth to adequately promote transformation. Christ authorizes the Apostles, the Apostles authorize the community, the community authorizes the tradition, and the tradition authorizes the canon.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Back to Basics: Discussion with an Atheist named Brap Gronk

Brap Gronk is probably a new reader of my blog. He's asking good questions and making good comments, except that if he had been a long time reader he would know the answers because these things that I think long time readers know I talk about a lot. Maybe I have not talked about them in a long time so I guess its' time to introduce this batch of regular readers to my idiosyncratic take on things.

Brap Gronk said...
Part 1: Here is how I look at the Courtier’s Reply. Let’s go back in time to when the only part of today’s Bible that existed was the Pentateuch. (If that’s not the general consensus on which books were written first, feel free to substitute whatever book or books were written first in place of “Pentateuch.”) If a person of that era is presented with the Pentateuch and told it is the word of God, inspired by God, or whatever, that person can decide whether to believe it or not.

So, why would this person believe the Pentateuch is the word of God? One reason might be because this person already believes in one or more false gods who are allegedly responsible for various natural occurrences, so a story about a one true God, Lord of Lords, King of Kings, seems quite plausible.

He's arguing that the basis for the Christian belief system is bankrupt and thus, the emperor has no clothes. Well there are several things wrong here. First that he doesn't understand eh courtier's reply the way I do, as an excuse to justify ignorance of theology. That may just be a difference of opinion. Looking at the basic attack upon the Christian tradition, I understand the rationale for the approach, but what it's missing or failing to understand is crucial. He takes the Bible as the basis of Christian belief. He takes religious belief as a rational proposition. If there is no immediate surface reason to accept the proposition then there is no basis for the belief. The problem with this is the Bible is not the basis of the tradition, and Judaism is not the place to start. This approach is basically treating ancinet Hebrews like fledgling Christians. The reason for doing that may be technically correct, Christianity evolved out of Judaism but that's no reason to treat ancinet Hebrews as proto-Christians. Belief in God in the ancinet wold would entail a lot of different information than it does now but in neither case would accepting the Bible as a verifiable proportion of historical accuracy be part of that reason. That's basically just codifying the fundamentalist mentality as "the christian tradition" rather than what it really is, a part of the larger tradition which includes much more than just accepting the Bible literally.

For the ancient Hebrews belief in God was bound up closely with being in their culture. To be a Hebrew meant worshiping the Hebrew god. It's a paradox of  our time that atheists are no longer intellectuals. Because intellectuals would have to accept this as culturally relative. But modern atheists see it as something condemn because it stands our from the way we do things. They totally ignore the fact, or they know not the fact that our modern understanding of individual autonomy is based upon ideas that came out of the enlightenment, not upon the universal nature of humanity. The ancient Hebrews did not base their beliefs upon how truly the Bible fit history or scinece, this what not even in the cards. They experienced God in the way that people all over the world do, through the sense of the numinous. They had the same reason to believe in divine power that anyone in any culture at any time does; that the reality of divine power is experienced by them. But the claims of their specific faith were wrapped up with their tradition the narrative story of their people. Writing the story and preserving the writing of it was not the reason to believe it was the outgrowth of belief. They didn't view the bible as proof that their claims were true. They weren't worried about it. They knew their claims were true in the say way they knew they were Hebrews. To disparage this cultural ferment is to misunderstand the nature of religion to begin with.

Religion is an outgrowth of culture in the sense that experience of God has to be understood through language. But our experiences of God transcend language. To make sense of them we must encode them in culture. It's the cultural filter that colors the appearance of a religion and makes it the religious tradition that it is. The psychological studies done about religious experience prove that people all over the world, in all times and all places have the same basic experiences of God and even relate to those experiences in the same way, but they must encode them in culture to talk about them and it's the cultural aspect that makes them all different. So to answer the question the reason to believe the Pentateuch way back when those books were the only form of Bible is because one was  Hebrew that's what Hebrews believe. That is not to say that the reason for being a Christian is also the same. Christianity has developed along with, and to a large extent nurtured and developed, modern secular culture. Being a Christian in the modern world is not a function of coming form a particular culture, like any other bleieve system in modernity being a Christian now means one's own experience, one's own existential position, one's on sense of the numinous.

I hope we can agree that accepting the Pentateuch base on that line of reasoning is less than great, since it’s based on false beliefs. 
 Not necessarily. He's assuming that its false merely because people believed it as an outgrowth of culture.I don't see why that makes it false. I see why that means the reasons for believing it are culturally relative and would not be deemed relevant to our own cultural context today. I don't see how that proves they are baseless. The Bible doesn't say we have to have the same reason for believing they had back then. But in terms of the sense of numinous people have always had that and they still do. That's basically the real reason why people believe and it will always be the reason. But the sense of the numinous has to be loaded into culture to be talked about. That being the case there will always be cultural differences in belief systems and in religious traditions.

Another reason this person might believe the Pentateuch is the word of God is because he has been searching for answers to explain the natural world around him, and he thinks there must be a supreme being who is in charge of it all and created everything.
In my opinion that line of reasoning is similar to the first reason, since those false gods were created for the same reason, to partially or wholly explain the natural world. It doesn’t seem much different than God of the Gaps, since at that time it was all gaps. (No need to shoot down God of the Gaps for me. I’ll remove that last sentence so we can move on.)
two classic problems here:

(1) "word of God" is a reformation category, not a ancinet Hebrew category.

In the OT the prophets many times say "the word of God came to him saying..." The word of God for them was the word God spoke not the written words on paper. Scholars show that the guys at Qumran has four different retentions of the OT running side by side and they didn't care. They had no problem with that because they did not have the idea that the written words on paper were the word of God had to be totally literal.

(2) explaining nature is not the explanation of religion.

 This is an old nineteenth century mistake that atheists have been making since the days of August Compt (early nineteenth century), It's true that people sought to explain nature, and it's true that they often appealed to religion since that was their understanding of the world, that is not to say that the invented religion to explain nature. They invented religion because they had a sense of the numinous. Religion evolved out of the sense of the numinous then came to be used to explain what they didn't understand in nature.

Riligious Belief Does not Serve as Explaination

Are Religious Beliefs Explanations?
Norman Lillegard


"...Scientific explanations get started generally with hypotheses (at least on a Popperian account) which are then put to various tests in attempts to get independent evidence for the explicans. Now there surely is something quite odd in the suggestion that such a religious belief as that God created the universe, or guides its development, is in any way a hypothesis. This belief is normally acquired in "dogmatic" contexts, it is not held in a tentative fashion, and its function in a believer's life is, arguably, quite distinct from the function of hypotheses, and thus of explanations, in the lives of scientists. Does this show that religion and science simply bypass one another? Perhaps. It will no doubt be argued that even if religious beliefs are not hypotheses they still have a definite cognitive content, are true or false, and thus are capable of contradicting scientific claims. To deny this would seem to be tantamount to endorsing some kind of emotivism with respect to religious belief, and in fact suspicions of emotivism have undoubtedly contributed to what I think are premature dismissal of Wittgensteinian approaches in the philosophy of religion. ... I will argue that the dynamics of belief change in the sciences and in religion are distinct in ways that support the idea that religious beliefs do not generally function as hypotheses or indeed function as explanations at all."

3) Humans Have always exhibited religious tendency.

Evolution of Modern Humans

The Biological and Cultural Evolution
of Archaic and Modern Homo sapiens
Dennis O'Neil, Ph.D.
Palomar College
San Marcos, California


"The Cro-Magnon people of Europe regularly decorated their tools and sculpted small pieces of stone, bone, antler, and tusks. Necklaces, bracelets, and decorative pendants were made of bone, teeth, and shell. Cave walls were often painted with naturalistic scenes of animals. Clay was also modeled occasionally. From our culture's perspective, these symbolic and naturalistic representations would be referred to as art. However, that is an ethnocentric projection. For the Cro-Magnon who made this art, it was very likely thought of as being something different, or at least much more, than we think of as art. For instance, it may have had magical and/or religious functions." "Upper Paleolithic European art began by at least 35,000 years ago and became intense 15,000-10,000 years ago. Perhaps, the most prominent portable art was in the form that has become known as Venus figurines . These were small carvings of women that could fit into the hand. They were not portraits but rather faceless idealized representations of well fed, healthy, usually pregnant women with large buttocks and breasts. Because of these exaggerated sexual characteristics, they are thought by most paleoanthropologists to be ritual objects symbolizing female fertility. Many of these stylized carvings are reminiscent of modern abstract art. Venus figurines were made from 27,000 years ago down to the end of the last ice age 10,000 years ago, from Western Europe all of the way to Siberia."

"The Cro-Magnon people are, perhaps, most well known for their paintings on the walls of caves. Although, this cave art is most abundant in southwest France and northern Spain, it was made elsewhere as well. With the cave art, we see the first large scale, concrete symbols of human thoughts, feelings, and perhaps even beliefs about the supernatural. Over 150 Western European caves have been found with these ice age paintings on their walls."

"Most of this cave art was made deep inside caves, in hard to get to dark areas with good acoustical qualities. It is assumed that because of the locations, these areas were very likely sacred and that the art was inspired by concerns with the supernatural. The majority of the figures are herd animals, many of which are shown either wounded or pregnant. A number of paleoanthropologists have suggested that the artists were most likely performing imitative (or sympathetic) hunting and fertility magic. This would have been particularly important when this art was at its peak in sophistication since at that time (ca. 15,000-10,000 B.P.), the last ice age was winding down and the herds of game animals were dying out and moving away to the north. Some of the animals depicted in the caves were predators rather than prey--e.g., cave bears and lions. Drawing and painting them may have been a way of obtaining protection from these dangerous creatures or even a way of taking on their ferociousness and skill to increase human hunting success."
Sense of higher presence universal human experience

William James, Varities of Religoius Experience (The Gilford Lectures)


"It is as if there were in the human consciousness a sense of reality, a feeling of objective presence, a perception of what we may call 'something there,' more deep and more general than any of the special and particular 'senses' by which the current psychology supposes existent realities to be originally revealed. If this were so, we might suppose the senses to waken our attitudes and conduct as they so habitually do, by first exciting this sense of reality; but anything else, any idea, for example, that might similarly excite it, would have that same prerogative of appearing real which objects of sense normally possess. So far as religious conceptions were able to touch this reality-feeling, they would be believed in in spite of criticism, even though they might be so vague and remote as to be almost unimaginable, even though they might be such non-entities in point of whatness, as Kant makes the objects of his moral theology to be.The most curious proofs of the existence of such an undifferentiated sense of reality as this are found in experiences of hallucination..... "

The Origin of Religion in the Sense of the Holy

Rudolf Otto (1869-1937) produced his own notion of the religious a pariori based upon the experience of the numinous or the Holy. This sense "combines both rational and non-rational elements. In his book The Idea of The Holy "Otto saw the origin of religion in what he called the mysterium tremendum et fascinans...some particular experience, usually for primitive people some confrontation with natural forces, but for the more sophisticated some depth of personal relationship, where simultaneously one is both attracted and repelled by a sense of awe..." [R. Jones "Numinous" Westminster Dictionary of Christian Theology..(405)]

a) Criticisms based on the primative

This is apt to be taken as a disproof by internet atheists. The argument would say that the sense of awe at encountering the holy is merely the fear of the unknown experienced by primitive people.while it no doubt does contain that, the argument is merely reifying the experience. First, it is centered upon a prejudice against primitive people; O, they don't have science so how can they know anything? Secondly, it is reducing the experience to an alleged coutner causality which we have no right to do. The "primitive" who intuited a sense of awe is taken for a dummy  only frightened by the thunder. But that is merely modernist prejudice. Primitive people know what thunder is, the encounter it all the time, it is the added element of what they attach to nature that the sense in thunder (or whatever the case may be) so there is an added dimension that we are reducing and losing in the "explanation" (and explanation which is just ideologically based).

Religions, Values, and Peak-Experiences Abraham H. Maslow
Appendix I. An Example of B-Analysis

Maslow talks about the psychological necessity of being able to maintain a tranformative symbology. He is not merely saying that we should do this, but that we do it, it is universal and through many different techniques and psychological schools of thought he shows that this has been gleaned over and over again. What Jung called the Archetypes are universal symbols of transformation which we understand in the unconscious, and we must be able to hold them in proper relation to the mundane (the Sacred and the Profane) in order to enjoy healthy growth, or we stagnate and become pathological. It is crucial to human psychology to maintain this balance. Far from merely being stupid and not understanding science, striving to explain a pre-Newtonian world, the primitives understood this balance and held it better than we do. Religious beleif is crucial to our psychological well being, and this fact far more than social order or the need for examination explicates the origins of religion.


"For practically all primitives, these matters that I have spoken about are seen in a more pious, sacred way, as Eliade has stressed, i.e., as rituals, ceremonies, and mysteries. The ceremony of puberty, which we make nothing of, is extremely important for most primitive cultures. When the girl menstruates for the first time and becomes a woman, it is truly a great event and a great ceremony; and it is truly, in the profound and naturalistic and human sense, a great religious moment in the life not only of the girl herself but also of the whole tribe. She steps into the realm of those who can carry on life and those who can produce life; so also for the boy's puberty; so also for the ceremonies of death, of old age, of marriage, of the mysteries of women, the mysteries of men. I think that an examination of primitive or preliterate cultures would show that they often manage the unitive life better than we do, at least as far as relations between the sexes are concerned and also as between adults and children. They combine better than we do the B and the D, as Eliade has pointed out. He defined primitive cultures as different from industrial cultures because they have kept their sense of the sacred about the basic biological things of life.

"We must remember, after all, that all these happenings are in truth mysteries. Even though they happen a million times, they are still mysteries. If we lose our sense of the mysterious, or the numinous, if we lose our sense of awe, of humility, of being struck dumb, if we lose our sense of good fortune, then we have lost a very real and basic human capacity and are diminished thereby."

"Now that may be taken as a frank admission of a naturalistic psychological origin, except that it invovles a universal symbology which is not explicable through merely naturalistic means. How is it that all humans come to hold these same archetypal symbols? (For more on archetypes see Jesus Christ and Mythology page II) The "primitive" viewed and understood a sense of transformation which gave them an integration into the universe. This is crucial for human development. They sensed a power in the numinous, that is the origin of religion."

Mystical experience at the root of all religions

Transpersonal Childhood Experiences of Higher States of Consciousness: Literature Review and Theoretical Integrationm (unpublished paper 1992 by Jayne Gackenback


"The experience of pure consciousness is typically called "mystical". The essence of the mystical experience has been debated for years (Horne, 1982). It is often held that "mysticism is a manifestation of something which is at the root of all religions (p. 16; Happold, 1963)." The empirical assessment of the mystical experience in psychology has occurred to a limited extent."

a). Core of Organized Religion

The Mystical Core of Organized Religion

David Steindl-Rast

Brother David Steindl-Rast, O.S.B., is a monk of Mount Savior Monastery in the Finger Lake Region of New York State and a member of the board of the Council on Spiritual Practices. He holds a Ph.D. from the Psychological Institute at the University of Vienna and has practiced Zen with Buddhist masters. His most recent book is Gratefulness, The Heart of Prayer (Ramsey, N.J.: Paulist Press, 1984).

"If the religious pursuit is essentially the human quest for meaning, then these most meaningful moments of human existence must certainly be called "religious." They are, in fact, quickly recognized as the very heart of religion, especially by people who have the good fortune of feeling at home in a religious tradition."

b)What all Religions hold in Common.

Cross currents

Thomas A Indianopolus
prof of Religion at of Miami U. of Ohio


"It is the experience of the transcendent, including the human response to that experience, that creates faith, or more precisely the life of faith. [Huston] Smith seems to regard human beings as having a propensity for faith, so that one speaks of their faith as "innate." In his analysis, faith and transcendence are more accurate descriptions of the lives of religious human beings than conventional uses of the word, religion. The reason for this has to do with the distinction between participant and observer. This is a fundamental distinction for Smith, separating religious people (the participants) from the detached, so-called objective students of religious people (the observers). Smith's argument is that religious persons do not ordinarily have "a religion." The word, religion, comes into usage not as the participant's word but as the observer's word, one that focuses on observable doctrines, institutions, ceremonies, and other practices. By contrast, faith is about the nonobservable, life-shaping vision of transcendence held by a participant..."

Smith considers transcendence to be the one dimension common to all peoples of religious faith: "what they have in common lies not in the tradition that introduces them to transcendence, [not in their faith by which they personally respond, but] in that to which they respond, the transcendent itself..."(11)

Brap Gronk:

Are there any other reasons a person of that era might believe the Pentateuch is the word of God, based on the evidence available at the time? I don’t know.

On the other hand, why might our ancient person not believe the Pentateuch is the word of God? There could be any number of reasons to reject it, such as being generally skeptical of anything or anyone, having a dislike for authority, etc. These reasons are not based on any evaluation of the Pentateuch but are instead personality traits, so no need to consider those as being valid. But why might he reject the Pentateuch based on the available evidence? I can think of a few things he might say:

The kind of reasons have nothing to do with the way ancient people thought. But the problem is he expects the fundamentalist view of the bible to the true way that ancient Hebrews looked at it. The Bible, those who accept are supposed to stay the same while modern with it secular types change with scinece and progress. What he's ignoring is the fact that modern religious people are as much products of the modern age as he is. His ego tells him "I am more scientific than they are." But the truth is we all products of our own culture and he no more than I. Modern reasons are not the same as ancinet one's The modern view of the Bible is nothing like the ancinet Hebrews viewed. The concept of the Bible being true literally and representing history is the sloganism of a particular sect that made a knee jerk reaction to the nineteenth century, but even knee jerk reactions to modernity are products of modernity. There are larger Christian sects and camps and parts of the tradition that are not shaped by a fear of evolution. It is not historical Christianity to think that the Bible must be literally historically actuate in all it says.

Then Brap gives a list of reasons that he would find as reasons. The only thing this list tell us is what his reasons would be.

- This is just some oral history you people finally decided to write down. Why should I believe it came from a god?
 No one in the ancinet world would think this way The ancinet Hebrews would tell him "you shouldn't because you are not a Hebrew now get lost."

- How convenient of you to write a story about how God has selected you as his chosen people and promised you some land. I wish I had thought of that first.
 an ancient person would not say that. An ancient person would say "Of cousre you God selects you our gods selected us, so what?" He thinks he's dealing the support pegs these are not the support pegs. He's not knocking out the pegs he's only telling us about his own habits.

- This God character really cares about the minutiae of our lives, doesn’t he? There are so many rules in there that I’m more inclined to think this is an attempt to justify enforcement of your rules of behavior, not God’s rules.
 Ot is dealing national building as well as a religious tradition and personal ethics. These were all the rules of the whole culture. We are not rule oriented now days, the Christian tradition is not based upon the ritual purity laws of OT worship. That pertains to worship in the temple not modern belief systems.

- Your stories about God seem to stress rewards for those who obey him and nasty consequences for those who do not. Since I can’t verify this god of yours really did any of these nasty things to those who allegedly deserved it, this looks like a bunch of empty threats intended to make me fearful of not obeying your god.

actaully they did not. this is a good reason to think he has not read the bible. The OT doesn't have hell. It never says anyone is being punished in the after life. People got killed for doing evil. They thought if calamity befell them it was because of what they did to others. But there is no injunction that if you don't believe in Judaism you will go to hell. That was a foreign idea and they got itt from the Greeks. That's right, the pagan Greeks brought hell to the Jews in the time of the Seleucids who inherited Alexander the Great's empire.

These seem like reasonable objections to me, and I think it’s safe to say that if a group of people today came up with a story about how their god has selected them as his chosen people, promised them some land in rural Montana, and gave them a bunch of reasonable rules to live by, they wouldn’t be taken very seriously by anyone of any religious belief.
They seem reasonable to you because they are modern concepts. They are not the way ancient world people thought and no ancient person would ever make such arguments. By the same token those are not attacks on the supports of Christianity.

So I am suggesting we consider only the Pentateuch, and any theology based solely on the Pentateuch, when evaluating whether or not the Pentateuch was divinely inspired. Feel free to call it the Ancient Courtier’s Reply. If that’s considered unfair, keep in mind that that’s all our ancient person had to go on, too.
 That's proof theological method. First because there just isn't' that much in Christian theology that's based only upon the Pentateuch, not outside the fundamentalist camp. Secondly because the idea that the big issue facing the Christian tradition is the inspiration of a part of the bible is just regressive and wrong headed.

No Jesus, no resurrection, no atonement. The Ancient Courtier cannot tell our ancient non-believer to wait because it will all make sense in a few hundred years after God sends his son to Earth.

This is a strange idea but it seems oddly to have no real meaning. It is based upon a false concept of the nature of Biblical inspiration and is just another quasi fundamentalist straw man. For one thing he mistakenly thinks since Genesis is arranged to com first in the canon then it mut be lynch pin. It's not. Jesus is the lynch pin. Maybe the thinks since Genesis is th easiest to attack, with the world wide flood and six day creation in the same book. But that just doesn't make any difference. Modern Christians can recognize these are myths.Mythology is not a lie, mythology communicates truth in a way that speaks to the psyche through archetypes. but doesn't have to be literally true. So I think he needs to do something to understand the basis of modern theology. Say now it's that exactly what I was saying about the courtier's replay?

Friday, June 25, 2010

Atheist Know Nothing Hate Group Strikes Again!

In response to my comment about the Couriter's thing someone sends this:

Anonymous Derek Porter said...
You sicken me, you lying scumbag. Why must I waste my life sharing a planet with lousy shits like you? Because make no mistake, every second, every minute, every hour, every day, every week, every year, spent in the same universe as you IS wasted. And wasted through no fault of my own, but ENTIRELY through your fault. You loathsome piece of vomit.

Hey but other than how do you really feel about me?

all that because I want people to read and understand the kind of things they trying to criticize. That's such an outrageous demand. That guy knew so little about theology he got everything he said wrong because he believed that he doesn't have to know anything to criticize soemthing. That's the kind of stupid little bs that comes of ignorance. He's so fucking proud of his ignorance he wont let you critize it!

He said point blank that I was lying when i said process theology has an impersonal God. so easy to find out! all you have to do is Google "does Process theology have an impersonal God" but the very idea that one should find out seems to through into a tail spin.

This is clearly not because I"m wanting people who know what their talking about it's because I don't embrace his ignorance and pretend that his little but hge ego amounts to intelligence. He thinks "My desire for recognition is equal to and synonymous with my greatness." But it's not!

It's my recognition that it's not that he can't stand.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

The Super Essential-Godhead


Have you ever wondered what Tillich's notion of God as being itself is called, in theological language? "God as being itself" is too awkward. Most commentators on Tillich wont say this but I think I have an original observation that Tillich was trying to translate Dionysus the Areopagite into existentialism. That is to say ancinet neo-Platonism into modern existentialism. Notice the similarity in the ideas: compare this with last post.

Dionysus The Areopagite (500)

The Author claims to be Paul’s companion in Acts, but due to the almost complete infusion of neo-Platonism throughout the text, the writings have been placed near the end of the fourth or early part of the fifth century. This is largely due to the influence of pagan philosophers Proclus (lecturing in Athens around 430 AD). The true name of the author is unknown he was probably a monk, believed to have lived in Syria. His writings have been extremely influential; he in essence kicked of the whole tradition of Christian mysticism. He founds the basic foundation for Gregory and Eastern Orthodox figures quoted above. The ideas of “Pseudo Dionysus” as he is most often known in the west, are set down in a long introduction by the translator Clearance Edwin Rolt. Rolt died at thirty-seven and this was his only book, but he had been hailed as one of the finest scholars ever produced by Queens College. Thus I think it only fair that we quote from the man himself. The major concept in which turns all Dionysus has to say is daubed by Rolt as the Super Essential Godhead:

The basis of their teaching is the doctrine of the Super-Essential Godhead (ὑπερούσιος θεαρχία). We must, therefore, at the very outset fix the meaning of this term. Now the word “Essence” or “Being” (οὐσία) means almost invariably an individual existence; more especially a person, since such is the highest type that individual existence can in this world assume. And, in fact, like the English word “Being,” it may without qualification be used to mean an angel. Since, then, the highest connotation of the term “Essence” or “Being” is a person, it follows that by “Super-Essence” is intended “Supra-Personality.” And hence the doctrine of the Super-Essential Godhead simply means that God is, in His ultimate Nature, Supra-Personal.

Now an individual person is one who distinguishes himself from the rest of the world. I am a person because I can say: “I am I and I am not you.” Personality thus consists in the faculty of knowing oneself to be one individual among others. And thus, by its very nature, Personality is (on one side of its being, at least) a finite thing. The very essence of my personal state lies in the fact that I am not the whole universe but a member thereof.

God, on the other hand, is Supra-Personal because He is infinite. He is not one Being among others, but in His ultimate nature dwells on a plane where there is nothing whatever beside Himself. The only kind of consciousness we may attribute to Him is what can but be described as an Universal Consciousness. He does not distinguish Himself from us; for were we caught up on to that level we should be wholly transformed into Him. And yet we distinguish between ourselves and Him because from our lower plane of finite Being we look up and see that ultimate level beyond us. The Super-Essential Godhead is, in fact, precisely that which modern philosophy describes as the Absolute. Behind the diversities of this world there must be an Ultimate Unity. And this Ultimate Unity must contain in an undifferentiated condition all the riches of consciousness, life, and existence which are dispersed in broken fragments throughout the world. Yet It is not a particular Consciousness or a particular Existence. It is certainly not Unconscious, Dead or, in the ordinary sense, non-Existent, for all these terms imply something below instead of above the states to which they are opposed.

We can see in that description several features which correspond to the things Tillich says. One interesting discussion that I close before it is started is the “personal” aspects. I am saving that discussion for its own chapter on Being itself and consciousness. The first point of interest is the connection between being and essence. He defines ousia as either one. Ousia of course is the root words of homoousios. Rolt confirms Tillich’s view in saying that essence refers to a particular existence, but the Super Essential is in contrast to an individual person. God is beyond the consciousness of an individual, but is in fact a universal consciousness that is in all things and can identify with all beings. I’ve already dealt with Tillich’s nix on pantheism; this is not a pantheistic idea. Yet in defining it Rolt deals with many of the aspects of God as being iself expressed by Tillich. God is infinite, God is not one person among others, transcendent of all we know and dwells on a plane beyond our understanding. The term “Super Essential” can be understood as “ground of being” or “Being itself.” They are basically saying the same thing. The Greek phrase he uses for “Super-Essential Godhead” is ‘humperusios Thearkia: Super means “over” or “transcendent” a structure over something else, such as “superstructure.” Thearkia is commonly the term in the NT for “Godhead.” What is being communicated is the notion of transcendence but also the transcendental signifier, the overview to the ordering of meaning and order, that is equivalent to the concept of a ground, of course as pointed out, essential has an affinity with being. Thus we could as well translate it “ground of being.” The concept of God as “Ground of Being” is the concept of “Super Essential” God. I don’t suggest that “ground” would be a good translation as translations go, but I do think it’s hinting at the same idea.

Pseudo Dionysius himself begins by embracing the vita negative, God is beyond our understanding, we don’t try to say what God is, we experience what God is (mystical union) we say what God is not and infer from that the truth, except where we are given clear understanding in Scripture. “We must not then dare to speak, or indeed to form any conception of the hidden Super-Essential Godhead, except those things that are revealed to us from the Holy Scriptures. For a Super-Essential understanding of it is proper to unknowning which lieth at the Super-Essence thereof surpassing discourse, intuition, and Being.” The translator capitalizes being.

The one who is beyond thought surpasses the apprehension of thought; the good which is beyond utterance surpasses the reach of words. Yea, it is a unity which is the unifying source of all unity and a Super-Essential Essence, a Mind beyond the reach of mind and Word beyond utterance, Eluding Discourse, intuition, Name and every kind of being. It is the universal cause of existence while itself existing not for it is beyond all being and such that it alone could give, with proper understanding thereof, a revelation of itself.(52)

Notice that this appears to be where Tillich obtains his usage of the term “existence,” and the distinction that God does not exist. What is puzzling is that while Tillich says God is beyond existence, because existence is for contingent things, and God is Being itself, identifies God with Being, Dionysus says God is beyond being. But then he is a full blown neo-Platonist. For him being is just reality and that is a copy of the true nature of things in which it participates. Tillich seems to move one step over from neo-Platonism toward modern existentialism. Dionysus tells us that we must make no expression or positive statement about the Super-Essential Godhead except those revealed in scripture for these are actually revealed by God. He tells us that “many writers thou wilt find who have declared that it [Super-Essential Godhead] is not only invisible and incomprehensible but also unreachable and past finding out since there is no trace of any that have penetrated the depth of its infinitude.” God reveals “itself” in stages commensurate with the powers of the subject for understanding. The notion that God is so wholly other, so transcendent of understanding is right in line with Tillich’s view. It’s clear Dionysius is a major source for Tillich’s existential ontology.


Dionysius the Areopagite: on Divine names and the Mystical Theology, trans. Clearance Edwin Rolt , New York, New York: Cosmio 2007, from original 1920 publication.  see also online versionChristian Classics Ethereal Library, on line version, The Author and his Influence, trans by, 1920  website URL:  by
visited May 13,
[1] Ibid, Introduction, 4-5
[1] Pseudo-Dionysius, On Divine Names, Ibid 52
[1] Ibid, 53
[1] Ibid.

Monday, June 21, 2010

New Insights into Being Itself

Summary of the view that emerges from Tillich’s Ontology

In looking back over the phrases Tillich uses we can piece together an idea of this concept of God as “being itself. We can group the phrases into two kinds, positive and negative. Positive of course in the sense of “power of being” and so forth, negative in terms of the things he says being itself is not. One might object how can we make affirmations when god is beyond our understanding? Well, hopefully Tillich is not beyond our understanding and this is about trying to understand Tillich. I don’t think that’s the same try to understand God. Is it? Most of these are found in Systematic Theology vol 1 unless noted.


Not a “thing”
Not exists
Not an abstraction
Not infinity
Not Platonic
Not form of forms
Not participate in nothingness
Not Universal essence
Not found in totality of beings
Not Pantheistic


Power of being
Power to resist nothingness
Infinite power of being
Power of the ground in all
Ground of being
The ground of the creative process of life
Creative ground of essence and existence
Depth of being
Unconditional power and meaning
Being as being

Start with what being itself is not

The first negative side affirmation is: God is “not a thing.” By this Tillich means God is not on the level of things in creation, not just another object, this coincides with all the positive side affirmations that say God is the basis of all that is. To make an analogy, if one is assigned to way all the objects in a room with a scale of some kind, one does not include the weight of the scale. God is “off scale” for anything we can try to pin down because God is not just another thing in the universe. Thus God is more than just “the most powerful being.” Moreover, belief in God fir this reason is not just adding a fact to the universe. Atheists are always speaking as though God is just adding a fact, there’s this one additional existing thing, “God.” That’s why they tend to think that empirical scientific evidence can rule out God, or that it’s so terribly crushing that we don’t have scientific evidence of God. That’s also why Tillich thought that was totally unimportant. One cannot measure the basis of measurement. The second negative side affirmation is like unto the first, “not exist.” This, as discussed earlier in the chapter, has led many of unwary observers to conclude that Tillich did not believe in God. God not existing and God not being are two very different things. Tilliched reserved “existence” for contingent things. God is not a “thing” and God is not contingent. We can’t measure God by the standards of any thing, because God si the basis of all things, but God is not a thing. God is above the level of mere existence, on the order of being itself.

Tillich specifically repudiates the idea that God is an abstraction. I am not convinced that abstractions don’t have any reality or that they don’t refer to realities, but God is not an abstraction in any case. In the sense that atheists try to tie God down to abstraction they mean a generalized summary of an average of some physical thing projected into a hypothetical amalgam. So they imagine God is just a mean average of all things or something of that nature. Tillich tells us this is not the case. God is a concrete reality and the reality that makes all reality possible. God is not “infinity.” God is not to be identified with an abstract concept that is more or less mathematical. God is infinite, but God is not infinity. There is but one God, yet God is not the number one. The point is God is not on a level with mathematics, lacking any concrete existence but existing in the mind as a good idea. “Not Platonic,”
“Not form of forms.” Plato envisioned the idea of the One, the “form” in which all the forms existed. This is not the Christian God. As Tillich says, the one is bound to the form inexorably. A God who is the form of forms has no choice but to be the form of forms, and thus becomes another “thing” although the superior thing. We take note St Augustine put the forms in the mind of God. Rather than convert the Christian God into the form of forms, he turned the Platonic forms into ideas in God’s mind. [see Augustine  ] It’s tempting to think of God in that way, the form of forms, because that would explain why God seems to be removed from concrete perceptions. But this is an unsatisfactory solution as it just brings up the same question again and turns God into a frozen sort of dead end that dominates God rather than explains the problem. Another negative side affirmation is that God does “not participate in nothingness.” This is in reference to the dialectical aspects of reality. Tillich saw a dialectical relationship between being and nothingness in which “the beings” participate. God does not participate in this dialectical relationship. Tillich does hint at a social construct of God as dialectic where the concrete being itself meets the human construct of gods and the notion of deity is used to describe the creator and numenal aspects of Being itself (see above where we discuss dialectic in being and nothingness). But that deals with human perception. In God’s actuality God is above the level of this dialectic and is pure being, does not participate in nothingness. We will discuss Tillich’s concept of a dialectical God further in the next chapter.

There are three negative side affirmations that pertain to pantheism: “Not Universal essence,” “Not found in totality of beings,” “Not Pantheistic.” There are two kinds of pantheism in general, the first kind I will discuss is daubed by Tillich as “not true pantheism” but I can tell you most message board opponents of Christianity calling themselves “pantheistic” will disagree. That is the version that says God is the essence of all things, the abstracted amalgam of everything that is. God the collection of he world as a whole. Wether true pantheism or not, this is not the concept Tillich has of God and he repudiates it specifically. This is what he means by “not universal essence” or “not found in the totality of beings.” When he says “not pantheistic” he means the other kind, because he’s already nixed the first kind, the “other kind” (what he calls “true pantheism”) is sort of a personification or deification of nature. There’s a power of nature, a collection of laws of nature and that collection is revered in the way a god is revered. Though Tillich describes God as “the power of being” he does not mean the power of nature alone. Tillich reject both forms of pantheism.

What being itself is

The picture we glean form Tillich’s work is that God is power, but not just any power. God is not a force like electricity; God is foundational to all things. The better analogy would be the laws of nature or the dialectic or the foundation of reality. Three of these positive side affirmations about God have the term power in them; of being, to resist nothingness. But these analogies of foundation, dialectic, laws of nature, are inadequate because they not basic enough and they are too finite and limited. The “basis of all reality” would be the most apt description. But what kind of “basis” is this, that we call “God?” It’s a creative power, but not to be thought of in the sense of a power such electricity that would be to make God out to be a “thing.” The first negative side affirmation is “not a thing.” Power of being implies the force of the enabling power in the process of being, that which enables all things to be; the idea of the power to resist nothingness is a way of saying this and reinforces he idea. But this is a power more like gravity than like electricity in that it’s mysterious, we can control it and its in everything, the basis of everything. Another phrase suggests this power of being is “infinite.” The third “power” phrase is “power of the ground in all…” This is what tells us its’ more than just a force like electricity but is much more foundational. The term “ground” here links to power and is found in several terms.

As already discussed, ground has several implications. It not only implies a foundation or a basis, but is used in depth psychology to indicate the overall collection of concepts and images from which the psyche draws it’s understanding. Ground implies depth, it implies a complex set of images beneath the surface. The ground of being is not to be confused with just the fact that things exist, but with the depths of ontology, the complex nature of what it means to be. Power of the ground in all refers to the universal complexity and depth that all beings share in force of the active nature of being. Being is “on” it’s constructive, it’s an act of taking part in reality, the power of the ground is the force of this act shared by all beings. Thus the image that emerges for me in relation to God is one of a foundational reality that brings into being created order and charges it with the force to be rather than to fade out, and gives it meaning and implication and fortifies the quality of it’s being. It is the source (source implies depths and reserves) out which emerges all that is. Creative Ground of essence and existence. This “force” this “ground” is not only the source out which comes not only the basic physical existence of things (the beings) but the basis of their natures, of all nature. In this sense the basic concept of “ground of being” seems like a short hand embodying all of these concepts. If this is true, and if the “itself” in being itself is synonymous with the ground in ground of being, then it seems being itself is an even shorter short hand for the same thing. It’s really more like these phrases are short hands for all these terms, and for the negative terms and the whole Systematic Theology volume one. “Being as Being” is too contextualized a phrase to include in this description. I think what’s being said there is that God is not the fact of things existing, not the surface factual account of “things” but the pure basis of the act of participation in reality.

In A History of Christian Thought he says some things that are very interesting even though they are just little phrases in passing as he discusses the great controversies in Christian doctrine. In discussing Sabellius, for example, he says “he (Saellius) is saying that they (3 persons of Godhead) are all Homuoosios. That is, they all have the same essence, the same divine power of being.”[History67-68] It seems, therefore, that the concept he’s working with is really quite akin to that of essence. Power of being is really some form of essence or other. In speaking of Monarchian and sabellian theologians he speaks of their doctrinal creeds and how they did double duty as mystical statements, “it was the mystical intuition of essences, of powers of being.” [History 68 ] Apparently power of being is the same as essence. Whatever this concept means, one thing we can say it surely means is that there’s more to a thing than just the fact that it exists. Being itself is not a short had for Tillih’s alleged “atheism.” If we take this as a clue this connection between being itself and essence, we might get more insight in to what he means by the term. If this seems like an unsupported claim, twice in his critique of the ontological argument he contrasts and opposes the phrase “the existence of God” with his counter phrase “the creative ground of essence and existence,” clearly in that context this phrase represents his view, “being itself.” Tillich was an expert in the thinking of the middle ages. For him the ideas of that time still lived, and the translated them into modern speech, reductionists of today are masked in the references to “nominalists.” (see Intro chapter). Tillich also read essence into his understanding of existentialism. In the history of philosophy being and subjestance (essence) are known to go together as terms describing the same thing. John of Damascus says: “Being is the common name for all things which are. It is divided into substance and accident. Substance is the principle of these two because it has existence in itself and not in another. Accident, on the other hand, is that which cannot exist in itself but is found in the substance.”[St. John of Damascus: Writings, 14.] Despite the quant ancient concepts of essence and accident, the essentialism now regarded as a disproved fairy tale, the identification between being and essence can be understood in modern terms.

Tillich says that existentialism can’t stand alone. It must have something to play off of. Existentialism is basically a revolt and so it must rebel against something.

Often I have been asked if I am an existentialist theologian. My answer is always short, I say “fity fifty” this means for me essentialism and existentialism belong together. It is impossible to be a pure essentialist if one is personally in the human situation and not sitting on the throne of God as Hegel implied he was doing when he constructed world history as coming to an end in principle in his philosophy this is the metaphysical arrogance of pure essentialism. For the world is still open to the future and we are not on the throne of God…on the other hand a pure existentialism is impossible because to describe existence one must use language. Language uses universals. In using universals language is by its very nature essentialist and cannot escape it. All attempts to reduce language to mere noises or utterances would bring man back to the animal level upon which universals do not exist. Animals cannot express universals. Man can and must express his encounter with the world in terms of universals. Therefore there is an essentialist framework in his mind. Existentialism is possible only as an element within that framework.[History, 541]

I think we can equate roughly being itself with what they were talking about as homosious
“Substance,” or “essence,” as it is known in the Trinitarian and Christological controversies. No doubt Tillich translates this into modern idioms thorough German philosophy. In a modern idiom essence becomes universals. The concept of essence or substance, homosious relates to the Platonic forms. We see the connection in the quotation above where it emerges in modern parlance as the essentialism that underlies existentialism (not to say that Tillich thought existentialism is Platonic). The Greek idea is that substance is that which makes something what it is. The substance of a horse is four hoved legs, a main, a tail a long narrow face a sturdy body. This quality is exemplified in all the particular horses because they all participate in the universal horse, which is the Platonic form. Tillich rejects Platonism as I have said. Christianity never included the forms, never turned God into a form, but it did barrow the concept of substance in explaining the nature of the divine and the Christological problem, the deity of Christ. I will say a lot more about that dispute in church history in the next chapter. But there is a connection between this idea of the essence of the divine such as was used in the Trinitarian doctrine and the modern expression of the essentialist underpinning of ideas in the modern world.

In his critique of the ontological argument Tillich says that the scholastics were right when they asserted that in God there is no difference between essence and existence. What this means is for existing objects (contingencies) in nature to be is to be a certain thing. What something is is a matter of its participation in being as the thing it is. They don’t have a reference to the forms, God replaced the forms (Augustine placed them in the mind of God) but they do have the essence, and the essence of a thing is the form it takes as it participates in the act of existing (which is an Aristotelian idea). But because God is eternal, because he is the source of all being, he is not on the level of existing things but is the basis of all that is, God’s act of being crosses paths with the essence or substance of what he is, his essence his is “being.” To be for us, contingent beings, is to be a certain things, to be for God is to be God. Or as my brother puts this “being has to be.” Tillich’s view about how the scholastics abandoned their view and contradicted themselves by making God arguments will be dealt with in the chapter on the traditional arguments. This concept of God’s essence is his being is very important because it gives us a clue as to what “being itself” is really about. It’s a way of saying the opposite of “a being.” It’s a way of saying God is the primary aspect of what is, of being, and in that sense embodies and defines the very nature of what being is.
John Macquarrie, though normally a Tillich ally, opposes being as either substance or universals.

It must be denied that being can be equated with substance. Oupkoeimenon, [Greeke term] or substratum times supposed to underline the phenomena characteristics of beings….it cannot be equated with being because it is above all a static idea, having thinghood as its model. We have approached the idea of being through existence, rather than thinghood. This does not mean, however, that we are opposing a purely dynamic idea to the static notion of substance. Just as existence and selfhood imply both stability and dynamism so the word being (we call it , significantly, a verbal noun) has a double meaning, suggesting the act or energy of existing and also the existent entity in which the act expresses and manifests itself. The essence of being is precisely the dynamic “letting be”…of the beings.[109]

This notion of “being lets be” is one of Macquarrier’s unique contributions to the understanding of existential ontology. His denial of being as substance is seemingly contradicted, or at least tempered by his admission that there are two sides to the coin. He was probably just trying to prevent a too extreme identification of being with substance that might leave the concept tainted with the stigma of being ‘static.” In modern theology, colored as it is by process thought, that would be the theological kiss of death for the idea. As we see above, however, being is made up of two aspects, according to John of Damascus: essence (substance) and accidents. These are he two dimensions that Macquarrie speaks to, a dynamic relation of the thing itself in its state of being what it is, and the act of existing in which it participates, that would be the “accident” of it in scholastic terms. This same dynamism is discussed by Tillich who points out above that existentialism must be aware of the two aspects. The accidental side, the side that goes at it from existence as Macquarrie says, and in saying that very phrase he admits to the flaw in his argument, is not limited only to “the beings” (contingencies—the creatures on the level of existence) but is the case for being itself as well. God is engaging in an act, not to use the term “existing” since god is nto one “the beings” but being itself is a dynamic and thus contains both aspects. Those aspects must be all the way down, they can’t be limited just to the aspect of being in which the creatures are “let be” but in the never nature of being itself. What he means by “letting be” or his phrase “being let’s be” is the same thing Gilson is saying when he speaks “to be is to be a certain thing,” or the act of existing because it is this particular act is of the substance that it is. There are these two sides to a dynamic and you can’t separate one form the other. Being “let’s be” is the same thing Tillich is saying when he speaks of “the power of being.” The power of being to “resist nothingness” as he says is the letting be, that is being allows the beings to come into and go out of existence. The going out involves after life, not to say that either Tillich or Macquarrie deny after life, but that’s a discussion for another time.

Depth of being, the quotes at the first of the chapter form the Shaking of the Foundations really gives an adequate picture of this phrase. The most important thing to understand about it is that it tells us that God is not merely about the fact of things existing. The mere fact that things exist is only surface, there is much more too the story of reality than that; we will transcend things and facts and move into the realm of meaning, what things mean, and the realm of relationships, the relationship of one thing to another and the relationship of these relationships to the whole and of the whole to the basis of reality. The picture that emerges of the totalizing nature of God is indicated by the phrase: “unconditional power and meaning.” It is the unconditional refers to the transcendence of God above all things such that God is totally beyond our understanding, to be experienced but not pinned down, not images ore references or described. All we can describe, and that poorly is what we experience of God. Unconditional means it cannot be described or imaged except metaphorically. All religious language is metaphorical. We can only speak in that way, beyond the metaphor there is a never ending stream of more metaphors that relate back to a truth and a power that underlies all reality. The meaning is derived from this fact, that this unconditional foundation of reality is the basis of not only all that is, but all that could be of all potentiality. This is what Paul means by saying God is “all in all.” From this basis derives the nature of meaning, what meaning is, the meaning of things and the meaning of each individual life as it is lived in relation to this power of being. The soul is a metaphor for the relationship of the overall life of the believer and the direction it takes in relation to its creator. Thus we are either “lost souls,” or “saved souls,” but we ARE souls, we do not have souls we are souls! To the extent that our souls are saved souls we have meaning because meaning is derived from the relationship we have with or to the ground of being. But on this last point about souls and meaning I’m moving beyond the Tillichanity to my own theology.

It’s worth noting that the way he tells it the term g-o-d is applied to the basis of reality by relational situation, by that I mean because the mythological concept of a god (big man on mountain throwing thunder bolts, coincides in the human psyche with the basis of reality, being itself, the concept of “God” marks the way we speak about the basis of reality. God is not God because he’s a big man with powers, or because he’s the king of the universe, or because he is the most powerful being, but he’s God due to the relation that “he” has to us as creator; power of being to resist nothingness and basis of reality. God is God because God is the basis of all things and of all potential things. In discussing consciousness and God we will see that the only way we can really think about God as father without either literalizing the metaphor or clinging to the realization that it is a metaphor and underrating the sense of God’s own will, is to understand qualities of personality as relational to our awareness. In other words we don’t need to know or explain that is God like our father, we know that God related to us as a father in many respects. All analogical langue has both like and not like aspects. Thus God is like a father in some ways and also in other ways not like a father. There have to be spaces between God and the world or God becomes part of the horror and evil of the nature of life in the world. So far this picture we are painting of Tillich’s view of God, does not tell us much. It is not ever going to tell us the kinds of things the Atheist straw God makers want to know: what is God made of, how can he be non spatial when everything we observe is spatial? How can God be conscious if he doesn’t have a physical brain? These are the kinds of questions one asks when one lacks mind, O, pardon me, I mean when one lacks a belief in the mind in one’s belief system. Nevertheless this picture is not adequate without the benefit of the negative side affirmations.

So all we can do to summarize is to paint more pictures of what we think Tillich is saying. It profoundly disturbs scientifically minded people to think of belief is something that can’t be measured or charted or demonstrated in a laboratory. To many these are the forms of knowledge the only way to “prove” anything. Belief in God is not about words on paper, it’s not about charts and graphs. It’s about the actual experience of something of which we cannot say. It is about experience of love, power, and spirit. The view we glean from Tillich is still going to be a metaphor, but we can sharpen it to a clear picture. I am looking for the clearest and most concise expression I can find. When someone asks “what do you mean being itself?” I can’t hand them a copy of Tillich’s Systematic Theology Volume One.
Being itself is the foundational power that makes the difference between something or nothing. It is the basis upon which all things cohere, or exist, or have their being. In Being itself the beings live, move, and have their being. This basic power of being, this “on” switch that makes to be, is in all things, but not limited to all things. It does not create a divine nature within the physical, but it does mean that the presence of God is all encompassing. God is “all in all,” the basis of all things, the basis of potential. This power of being is complex, it cannot be understood just by looking at the surface fact of things existing, it is the basis upon which things exist. It’s not blindly impersonal but is transcendent of our understanding. It is the unconditioned which cannot be described, understood, dissected, pinned down or recreated by guys in white lab coats. Where it coincides with our cultural constructs of deity it is “God.” Where it transcends our understanding it is the “God beyond God.” Being itself is a short hand phrase for the depth of being and the role the power of being plays as the basis of all things. As the unconditioned it can only be spoken of in metaphor and analogy. It can be experienced it can be known on a personal basis. Being itself is a short hand phrase that stands for the basis of all reality and the power that makes it be, and the way it coincides with cultural constructs of the divine to from the basic religious understanding.

We have this huge amalgam of philosophical sounding crap and that’s we have. We do not have a clear, concise, or meaningful concept of what “being itself” means. Actually we have three clear and concise ideas, which tend to make for a muddle rather than one clear concise idea. Those are three are:

(1) The unconditioned

Primary use of the phrase is to guard the mystery, to speak of God in such a way as to remove the literalized metaphor of the father, the kind, the big guy in the sky. Tillich is careful to point out that phare is a metaphorical way of speaking; otherwise he would be literlaizing “being itself.” That would not be unconditioned, that would condition it.

(2) The basis of reality, power of being (Macquarrie’ phrase “primordial being.” )

Multiple concepts under this:
a. the basic thing that being is, perhaps “the first being” except that this contradicts Tillch’s view that God is not “a being.”
b. The “principle” upon which all that is comes to be and coheres.
c. Eternal being
d. Ontologically necessary being.
e. Essence of the divine

(3) Depth or reality, or meaning.

Being itself is the reality of being beneath the surface of the mere fact of existing things.

What we are left with what might be coherent but it lacks the initial sense of some special existential quality to being that if only we knew the concept we would know God has to exist. It removes the sense of the easy formulation:

God is being itself
We know that being must be
Therefore, God must be.

Yet Tillich replaces that with the claim that if we understand that being has depth we understand that God is real. What does he mean by “depth of being?” To answer that question above I stuck in a summary of Tillich’s entire ontology form Systematic 1. To distill that to a quick phrase, at the risk of over simplifying the depth of being is something like inherent meaning in the nature of reality. This inherent meaning is something we can intuit in the nature of being when we consider the death of loved one or look back over our lives or ask ourselves if faith was worth the struggle. It’s not a quantitative analysis that could be demonstrated and proved. But it can be grasped intuitively and I would like to think by anyone.

The problem is that in order to provide a clear concise meaning to the phrase we have to open up and understand the mystery the phrase is designed to hide. Since the phrase functions primarily to set up a barricade to protect the unconditioned aspect of the God concept then we really can’t open up the phrase to a one liner without over simplification. But this is the function of the phrase, not its meaning. The phrase is mean tto convey the unconditioned nature of God not to explicate it, so that aspect is not really getting at the meaning of “being itself.” The only way to understand the phrase without either reducing it to some “thing” in creation and conditionalizing it, or turning it into a short hand code for a whole theology that can barely be continued in a whole book, is to go back to the concept of essence. Being is essence, being itself is essence of what? Essence itself? It’s the crossing paths of being and essence in God’s eternal nature. God’s essence is his being, or to say it another way, since modern people are loath to use terms like “essence,” since God is “primordial being” (Macquarie) the basis of all that is or could be, the foundation, at the same the time the first of act of being something rather than nothing, the basis of all that could possibly come after it, God is the thing itself that being is, God captures the nature of what it means to be in an eternal and primordial way; all else that is or could be is only tangential to that primordial aspect of being, a further development in the story of being, one that depends upon the primordial aspect completely for its own existence. We can ask “what does it mean to be?” For us humans it means to be a creature of God. God is the first and eternal expression of what it means to be.


St. John of Damascus: Writings, New York: Fathers of the Church Ink, Frederic H. Chase Jr. Trans. Roy Joseph Deferrari editorial director, 1958, 14.

John Macquarrie, Principles of Christian Theology, 1965

Paul Tillich, Systematic Theology volume I, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1957, 10-11.