Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Paul Tillich and Personal God part 2


Tillich argues that this big man in the sky is behind much atheism. It is an anecdotal observation that now seems to be backed up by some emerging data. It is certainly the case that atheists are embroiled in a struggle against the superego-like God whom they think of as a “big man in the sky.” Nothing is clearer for that than Dawkin’s approach to the reverse design arguments. In answering God arguments Dawkins takes as totally a being alongside other beings and in fact seems to think he is perfectly, 1x1, analogous to a biological organism.[i] Dawkins spells it out in no uncertain terms. “why there almost certainly is no God.” Why? Because, a big man in the sky would have to be more complex than the universe he creates. Of course this is based upon the assumption that whatever reality entails has to reflect accurately and be limited to our little dust mote, from which we have never journeyed far.[ii]

Dawkins is working against what he takes to be the most popular pro God (one of the weakest) the monkey’s-writing-Shakespeare-by-accident argument. He couches it in terms of assembling a a 747 from a scrap yard by means of a hurricane. [iii] The creationist, whose argument is revises, couches his argument in terms of finding some living creature who is too improbable to be assumable by accident. Improbability means complexity. The more complex something is the less likely it is to be assembled by accident. The creationist equates improbability with design. Dawkins points out that it’s not the Darwinians who are trying to get “something for nothing,” so to speak, in assuming that complexity could come about undersigned, but the creationists are seeking the “free lunch,” simply because they don’t recognize that “however statistically improbable the entity you seek to explain by evoking a designer, the designer himself has got to be at least as improbable. God is the ultimate Boeing 747.”[iv] Dawkins takes this assumption through the entire book. The view of God that he’s attacking is obviously that of a big man. It may be couched as “big mind” or even “universal mind” but it’s still an entity, a thing, something that has to consciously calculate or deliberate about what it’s doing. Never does he stop to consider that he might have the wrong idea of God. He spends long pages droning on and on about consciousness raising and implying that creationists are stupid and feminists are smarter,[v] never does it occur to him that he just might be dealing with the wrong concept of God.

On the other hand, we can’t understand God as impersonal force like the electro-magnetic or the strong force that would reduce God to being “a thing.” That would place God under the regime of being rather than understanding God as the foundation of being. There are a couple of good reasons not to do that. The depth of being is certainly one such reason. We know that being has depth then the basis of being can’t be just another thing like an impersonal force. The complexity argument is stupid, because it equates complexity with probability. The ground of being can’t be merely probable, either there’s a found of being or there is not. If not then there can’t be any depth of being either. If there is depth there is a ground, and if there is a ground it can’t be just another thing. There has to be alternative to the stark contrast between “personal” in the sense of human consciousness and impersonal in the sense of dead matter. The stark choice between being en soir and por soir[vi] is really limited. There has to be some other aspect of being that is either both or neither, or perhaps both and neither. To find the solution to the personal problem we probably have to venture away from the confines of Tillich’s theology, since he never considers the need to understand God as personal. Perhaps the major reason, however, to understand God as “personal” is because most mystics experience God in this way. The sense of the numinous is the most profound mystical experience next to the undifferentiated unity and is certainly as prevalent if not more so. This experience, the sense of the numinous is a deep all pervasive sense of love emanating form everything and love for everything, and most especially love for people. Love itself demands the personal.

Mystical experiences can be divided into two types, the introvertive and the extrovertive. Researchers are divided as to which of these two these two experiences is the most advanced. Introvertive is impersonal; all sense of differentiation in reality is lost. This is state is supposed to be beyond word, thought or image. The extrovertive experience transfers the unit to nature. One distinguishes between different objects but an underlying sense of unity pervades all. In contrast to these two experiences, which are perhaps different stages of the same thing, there is also another kind of mystical experience called ‘the numinous.” This experience is derived from the work of Rudolph Otto and his sense of the holy.[vii] The numinous is an experience of personal dimension in the divine. It is a sense of all pervasive presence, usually a presence of love. In this experience one usually sees God as personal and loving. Both of these experiences are properly mystical. “Although it is possible to separate the numinous and mystical as two poles of religious experience, they are ultimately united, mystical experiences of unity (variously expressed) can be numinous as well.”[viii] One could proceed on the assumption that the personal is the illusion and fades away when the mystic gains more advancement. That doesn’t really seem to be what the research shows. It seems more like a matter of which aspect one emphasizes they are actually two poles of the same thing.

Thus we can separate the numinous and the mystical for conceptual purposes, depending upon whether the personal or impersonal aspects of foundational reality are emphasized. Mysticism tends toward the impersonal and numinous tends toward the personal. As we shall shortly note measurement studies can identify both numinous and mystical experiences, based upon whether one experiences a sense of presence (numinous experience) or a sense of unity (mystical experience)…that both components are properly mystical has been briefly noted above and extensively argued by Hood…their importance is that from a social psychological perspective they are part of what religions defend as the experience of the sacred.[ix]

In other words we can’t write off the personal dimension as the illusory any more than we can the other pole of the unity. They are both intrinsic to the foundational nature of religious belief.

Mystical experience is seen by many as the actual basis of religion and the ground of the mature end of Christian experience. Religion is more than merely “jumped up” ethics, or primitive failed science. There is a core to all religious belief that is rooted in the sense of the numinous, the idea that something special, something “holy” is set apart from the mundane world. That in itself introduces an experiential dimension into the concept of the religious.

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."

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..."(quoted in Indianopolus) [X]

In thinking about the transpersonal nature of God we can avoid anthropomorphism by discussing phenomena rather than assigning traits to God. Yet there is nothing more human then love, in spite of this, there is no reason to think that love has to be anthropomorphic. The kind of reductionist that wants to deny her own humanity may dcray emotion as "subjective" and belittle love as "mere emotion caused by chemicals in the head." The saints and the mystics know there's a higher sense of love this is not human and cannot be reduced to chemicals.

[i] Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion, op cit (chapter 1 fn 5) on line page 138. all of these references are on line page numbers.

[ii] Ibid, 138

[iii] Ibid. he attributes the scrap yard image to Fred Hoyle.

[iv] Ibid, 138

[v] 189-140

[vi] en soir = “being in itself.” Por Soir = being for itself. These are terms used by Jean-Paul Sartre in his Being and Nothingness. The “being in itself” refers to inanimate objects and being for itself refers to conscious being. Jean-Paul Sartre, Being and Nothingness, New York:Hazel E Barnes Philosophical Library, 1948m 1943

[vii] Ralph Hood, Spilka et al, op cit 292

[viii] Ibid.

[ix] Ibid, 293

[X] Wilfred Cantwell Smith, The Meaning and End of Religion (New York: Mentor Books, 1962), 74.

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