So many atheist attacks on the Christian faith proceed from the standpoint of litterlizing their negative image of God, which is based upon the OT version of God, that I used to always been telling them "you are making God into the big man in the sky." Now Atheists on CARM have started telling me that I'm making God into the Big man in the sky when I assume that God is conscious or that he loves us. The fact is that many of them assume that even slightest hint of consciousnesses in God and it's anthropomorphizing. They just have hold of the wrong end of the stick. God is not modeled after big man in sky just by being assumed conscious, but when we assume attitudes and behaviors caught up in the same assumptions that men make. My thesis here today is that it's only the big man in sky when it echos the personality hangups of big man. The nature of consciousness is such that this in and of itself need not be taken as anthropomorphic. The Christian concept of God as developed by the Platonic thinkers of the early centuries is about a universal mind that can relate to humans but works on a higher level so much so that we might not even understand it as consciousness or as "personal." That higher level can't be devoid of love, thus love is not anthropomorphic but a quality of God.
....The aspect of physical body is not the issue. I personally doubt that God has a body, since that would mean he is localized and limited specially, but not having a body but being a mind would only make him a "jumped up" big man if he still made the assumptions of a human. Although one of the major things I have had in mind when I used that phrase "big man in sky" is a Zeus figure sitting on throne with a white beard. The somewhat more sophisticated disembodied mind is only just a step up, especially if God is construed to have the same kinds of attitudes. The kind of attitude indicative of big man is the limited understanding, emotions of anger, rage, personality hand ups. Examples of this are found all over the OT. "You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and ." (Exodus 20:5).
"The Lord said, “If I find fifty righteous people in the city of Sodom, I will spare the whole place for their ... He answered, “For the sake of ten, I will not destroy it." (Genesis 18:16-33).
....When I was self identified as an evangelical I used to defend these things by saying "O that was to teach Abraham, to get him to look for the righteous men to emphasis to him that there were none." Surely really know there were no righteous men around. I never occurred to me until latter that the very act of teaching Abram in such away is in itself evidence of big monism, or the attitude of a man. That attitude is more likely to have come from the redactor. It's a fine literary device, it leads the reader to put himself in Abram's shoes, what would I do if I looked for the righteous men and couldn't find one? Did God have to actually commission authors/redactors who would write that? Or did he just know that in using human authors they would "get around" to using good literary devices? So it is with all the big man statements such as anger and jealousy and so forth. These are personifications that are aimed at enabling us to relate to God. We can't relate to some higher thing that is so far above us we can't even recognize it as personal. We relate to father and mother, thus God is reflected as having attributes of both throughout the bible. Surely doesn't have to be planned to be influenced by experiences of God.
....First we should distinguish between consciousness and the personal. There was a time there that I tried to avoid using the term "personal" in relation to God. The Bible never speaks of God as "personal." That implies personality and personality implies hang-ups. God can't have hang-ups. Consciousness is an aspect of personality but it's not synonymous with personality per se. Consciousnesses is the basic self awareness and the ability to distinguish bewteen self and others. I am me, I am not my brother. I am individual I am who I am that sets me apart form others. Consciousness is our medium of exchange with the world. We know the world through out consciousness awareness. We begin to think that our kind of consciousnesses i the only kind there is. Yet a good reason to assume that consciousness per se is not anthropomorphic is that we are not he only being that are conscious. We know for example that dogs and dolphins are conscious. So consciousness is also dogpomporhic. Some thinkers speculate that conscoiusness is "ground up." In other words there's a bit of consciousness at the lowest levels of life and it become more sohpisticated as life before more complex. For example we know know that amoebas persue complex behavior such as hunting.
oct 29, 2008
This year, Toshiyuki Nakagaki at Hokkaido University in Sapporo, Japan, won an Ig Nobel prize for his work on amoeba intelligence after his team found further evidence of the amoeba memory effect. They exposed Physarum amoeba to temperatures fluctuating regularly between cold and warm. It was already known that the cells become sluggish during cold snaps, but Nakagaki's team found that the amoeba slowed down in anticipation of cold conditions, even when the temperature changes had stopped (Physical Review Letters, DOI: 10.1103/PhysRevLett.100.018101).
The amoeba Dictyostelium finds bacteria by scent and moves toward its meal by assembling a molecular motor on its leading edge. The active form of a protein called Ras sets off a cascade of signals to start up that motor, but what controlled Ras was unknown.
....It's expalined through physical theory and it's more like an automatic reflex than a planned thought out behavior. I'm sure there are no amoeba coffee shops where dissident amoeba sing folk songs about their society. Yet we could think of these things as "consciousness" on a certain level. We think about the difference between an Amoeba, a slough a sea snail, a butterfly, a rat, a dog, a dolphin, ordinary humans, Noam Chomsky, and extra terrestrial life, why can't we posit the idea of that there's an off scale consciousness that keeps going until it's limitless, and infinite, that's God's level. Just as we can relate to lower levels, with varying degrees of success, the lower it gets the less success we can speculate that God can bend down and relate to us. Why is just being self aware only for humans and to posit that for God is to make God into the big man in the sky? The big man in the sky does not have complex motivations. God's motivations are beyond our underestimating so it's easy for us to stick with attributing our own to him.
....The Christian thinkers of the early centuries, around the time of Pseudo-Dionysus (500AD) understood God in terms of a universal mind. This is not a mind that is limited to one perspective like our own but that takes par tin all consciousness, becasue all consciousness is stemming from that mind. As the great Translator of Dionysus, Edwin Rolt said:
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.
Thus God can understand us better than we can understand ourselves. He can relate to us from a view point that is as much a part of our own subjectivity as we are ourselves. As St. Augustine said "God is more near than my in most being." This is not Pantheism. It doesn't reduce God to the level of synonymy with all things. It recognizes the distinction between God and creation, between being and the beings. It also recognizes the ability of God to comprehend his creation.
....The one way we can relate to God and understand that which is beyond our understanding is through experiencing the love of God. Love does not require the kind of intellectual understanding that we can't have in relation to God's nature or being. All it requires is that it be answered with more love. God's love (agape) is the will to the good of the other, that puts us in a parent-child relationship with God. We can't really imagine needing to care about the good of the other in relation to God but we can experience his loving care and provision in caring about our good. We can't imagine needing to save God because God never needs saving, just as infants we don't think about our parents needing saving. When we literalize the metaphor and make God out to be the big man in the sky we attribute our own needs to God then then love becomes manipulation because we are manipulative creatures. As we have seen in the last installment God's love is experienced by all mystics in all traditions, if we are open to it we will find it.
....As for the OT writers, they were not idiots. They knew God knew how man righteous men there were. They knew God was beyond there understanding. Next time I'll open up some aspects of the OT view of God and we'll look at some aspects people miss about the transcendent nature of God.
 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 http://www.ccel.org/ccel/rolt/dionysius.iii.i.html
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