Wednesday, August 03, 2016

God is Being Itself

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Paul Tillich (1866-1965) 




I am setting a God argumemt for next Domesday. Last time I talked about warrant because I argue that belief is warranted not that God is proved to exit, today will discuss the meaning of God as being itself because that will be the crux of the argumet. 

Paul Tillich is most famous for saying that God is not a being but being itself. He is not the only theologian to say this. Less known for it but still a major proponent of the idea is John Macquarrie. Perhaps the third most prestigious theologian to support this claim, although he is not that well known for it is Hans Urs Von Balthasar. After process theology this is a probably the major modern theological movement, Oddly enough it doesn't really have a name, I've called it "existential ontology" the historical precursor idea is super essential Godhead. No one calls it that now. The German term being translated "being itself" is urgrund. Webster defines it as: Primal, original, or cause, of course from old high German,1 That tallies with Macquarrie's habit of also calling it "primordial being."


The notion of God as being itself; God is not a being alongside other beings in the universe, or in creation. God is the basis of all being. In fact Tillich does not speak of God as “a being” he leaves out the “a” but simply says that God is “being itself” not “a being itself.” Leaving out the “a” is essential to understanding the concept. This is essential because the whole concept turns upon the idea that God is above the level of things, above contingency, in a category by itself. True to the mystical concept Tillich understands that God is beyond our comprehension. God blows away all of our easy preconceived categories that we have taken for granted since we first learned to talk. Yet though God is beyond everything we name, think, or understand, he is beyond these things in a metaphysical sense; yet “God does not sit beside the world looking at it from outside but he is acting in everything in every moment.”2 Tillich understands omnipotence not as talk about what God can and cannot do but as “creative power.” It’s this sense of God as a dynamic reality working actively in concert with the natural world that endears him to the process theologians. 3

The concept Tillich lays out is immune to attack by atheists, who conceive of God in the way fundamentalists do, as a big man in the sky. They are constantly arguing “there can be no such thing as a necessary being.” But their argument applies to a big man in the sky, a localized individual being who is like others, one of many, and who functions in a very similar way to biological humanity. They can’t for the life of them seem to understand the concept that eternal necessary being doesn’t mean “an eternal necessary being” but “being itself” the thing that being is, the being- ness of being so to speak, rather an individual being. Dawkins argument that God is improbable (The God Delusion) is based upon these same assumptions. Thus the argument he makes would not apply to any Christians view because it assumes God is a big biological organism, but it applies even less to Tillich’s view because it assumed on top of that that God is an individual manifestation of being and thus subject to being. Anything using the indefinite article assumes one of many. A penny assumes there is more than one penny, and this particular penny is an example of the many pennies that there are. A being is one of many, it is an example of one of the many beings that there are. But God is not a single individual being. That doesn’t mean there’s more than one God, it means that God transcends the easily understood category that we take for granted. In New Testament God is “The God” (‘0 Theos). This is a way of speaking of the quality of divinity itself. Literally John 1: 1 says “The God.” “The word was with the God.” One could translate the word was with deity, or as “the word was divine.” 

 He equates depth of being with the source of being, the source of life, and he tells us that the term “God” means depth. Literally the word “God” does not mean “depth.” He’s saying that the concept of God in modern theology and in the Christian tradition has always been that God transcends the level of mere things in creation. Depth of being means that being is not just the fact of things existing, nor is it only a surface understanding of the causes of things around us. The depth of being is the big picture, the idea that being is more than what we observe empirically, it is the spiritual sense, depth in profundity. He actually uses the term “depth” in more than one sense; suffering as in depth of despair, profundity, as in “deep meaning,” and transcendence, beyond the surface level. All of these uses are embodied in his essay.4 According to this statement, when we come to realize that there’s a lot more to being than just surface fact of existence, then we understand that God is real. Thus God and the depth of being are equated. This is because God is not a big man in the sky, but rather, God is the power of being, that to say the ground upon which all is has come to be and in which it coheres and continues. In the last chapter I discussed the possibility that this is the power of mind to perceive or to think the universe. The connection between the possibilities of consciousness as the basis of reality and the philosophical questions raised by this notion, as well as others related to it, form the basis of a good place to start exploring the depth of being.

In his essay The Shaking of the foundations,5 Tillich discusses depth of benig and some things have been said about that already (chapter 3). At this point, however, I will depart from Tillich’s organizational scheme but not from is basic thought and intent. There are what I like to call “deep structures” in reality that can be observed, or teased out. These deep structures can be organized into ideas that might serve to illustrate the point of depth of being, or might ever serve the function of arguments either for the reality of God or for the rational nature of belief. This is what I call the “focal points,” or a term of my invention I also like, “signifiers of depth.” The signifiers of depth highlight the deep structures. These consist of Tillich’s ontological categories. These categories are empirically derived forms of speaking. Because they are ontological, considered with the nature of being, they are in everything, not limited to religion. We make our world out of the categories, which determines the content. When I say “our world” I mean the world of our constructs, the world in our minds that consists of what we understand and how we understand it. The cause of the big bang is not part of this world because we don’t understand it or observe it. The attitudes we perceive in others may be mysterious or they may be understood wrongly or rightly but what we perceive about them is part of the world of our constructs because we perceive and it registers upon our understanding in some way. It is out of this amalgam of understood constructs that the categories are forged. This is all empirically deduced by Tillich.6 The categories do not include the unconditioned (God) because it transcends our understanding. But we have ideas about God that are derived from experiences and teachings and these are part of the categories, but they are not the uncontained, they are not the reality of God they are perception of God. 
The categories are:

Being and non being, and the forms finitude.v 
The forms of finitude:

*time: central to finitude because it limits being
*space: to be special is to be limited by the possibility of non being
*causality: determinate of being enables symbol and logical interpretation
*substance: the nature or mode of being

When Tillich gets even more specific forms of finitude include at some point self and the world. Much was said about self and the world in chapter 3. Tillich teases out problems of insecurity relating to each category:

*temporal (finitude) = we die.
*spatial = limitation of space (another form of finitude) remind us that we are limited in duration and in reach.
*causality = remind us of being and non being
*substance = we limited to accidents of being;

All of these produce anxiety at the prospect of non being (death). This is where Tillich plugs in the object of ultimate concern. The fact that we have an ultimate concern and that we can be bothered by the prospect of our finitude and cessation of being points to the deep structures of reality; it shows us that there’s more there than just the fact of existence, there’s the fact of cessation of existence and that it bothers us. Sometimes atheists try to deny that they have an ultimate concern or that they care about death. Even if one doesn’t feel the ultimate concern it’s logically there, and all one need do is to read the literature of the world to know that for most of humanity death is the ultimate concern. 

Some atheists or skeptics might be inclined to say this is all just speculation and can’t be proved. Actually there is no reason to doubt any of this so far. We can deduce all of this; Tillich says it’s empirical, from the universally expressed observations and aspirations of humanity. These ideas, there is time, there is space, there is ultimate concern, time and space are forms of finitude and they remind us we are going to die, this is hardly arcane metaphysics or the ravings of a mad man. These are things most great writers throughout human history have said in one way or anther. The relationship of duration to finitude is deductive and hardly brain surgery. From these categories, that are more or less universally understood, we derive equally basic epistemological questions. These basic epistemological questions are indicative of the meaning and nature of being; they are born out of the way our insecurities about our own being strike us. We are caused to reflect upon what we know and how we know it. The fact that we are caused to reflect upon such basic aspects is indicative of deep structures in being; since being is more than just a surface inventory of things that exist, but must be understood in relation to how we know what we know, there is reason enough to consider that being has depth. These questions may sound silly to the uninitiated in philosophy, but they have a serious purpose in being asked. This has already been presented in chapter 1. Questions such as “why is there something rather than nothing?” “Why am I here?” “What is life about?” The very fact of these questions, and that they are asked seriously and at times with great longing indicates to us the depth of being.

What follows is a description of Tillich’s ontology. In giving it I am actually demonstrating the categories or “deep structures” and then I will discuss signifiers of depth. 





Sources

1 Webster's Online Dictioanry 
http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/urgrund
this is in the premium unabridged Websters but they included it imn thye free on line versiomn as some kind of special.

2  Paul Tillich, The Courage to Be. London and Glasgow: Collins, the Fontana Library, 1952-74.175
That is according to my friend Scott Gross who studied process theology at Claremont with Hartshorne, D.Z. Phillips.
4  Tillich Shaking
Tillich, Systematic I. 197
6 Ibid




8 comments:

Eric Sotnak said...

I am not persuaded that “being itself” (or “Being” with a capital “B”, or “Existence”) really makes sense. It seems to me that it is a reification of an abstraction – the same metaphysical mistake made by Plato in proposing his theory of Forms.

But even if there is some sense to be made of the concept, I am still not convinced that a successful argument can be made for the necessity of anything fitting the concept.

Joe Hinman said...

It's not a Platonic form of anything, it's the opposite of nothing. we are beings so it's not that mysterious,. The thing is i agree with my Oxford positivist professor Billy Abraham who said "Heidegger is a bag of hot air." I think he was, But he did have av couple of good points to make.


There's more to being than just nonexistence. there has to be a necessary eternal aspect of being, or primordial being, because you can't get something from nothing and I don['t accept ICR as logical.

Joe Hinman said...

there three models for being besides naturalism and the idea that a bunch of things exist.

(1) Plato The world is in the form and the forms are in the one.

(2) Aristotle: the forms and the essences are united in the world.

(3) Augustine: The forms are in the mind of God, God creates the world.

Augie was one of the major influences upon Tillich

Eric Sotnak said...

God is beyond everything we name, think, or understand, he is beyond these things in a metaphysical sense;

yet “God does not sit beside the world looking at it from outside but he is acting in everything in every moment.”


How is this not self-conflicting? If God is really beyond comprehension, then what justifies the claim that he is acting in everything in every moment? In what way is he acting? What is the nature of this action? How would his acting be importantly different from his not acting?

What we seem to have is an assertion with no real content to it. It seems equivalent to saying, “God completely defies human comprehension except in the sense that I comprehend that he does all sorts of stuff in ways that defy comprehension.”

Joe Hinman said...

How is this not self-conflicting? If God is really beyond comprehension, then what justifies the claim that he is acting in everything in every moment? In what way is he acting? What is the nature of this action? How would his acting be importantly different from his not acting?


those are mystical cleches. I guess they can't be taken literally. I would put a line through them but I don't know the code,that's a lit crit thing called Putting under eraser. meaning you can't take this entirely literally.So I must qualify it, "somewhat" or something, Mostly beyond our understanding. I know philosophers hate ambiguity,k at least analytical types.

What we seem to have is an assertion with no real content to it. It seems equivalent to saying, “God completely defies human comprehension except in the sense that I comprehend that he does all sorts of stuff in ways that defy comprehension.”

It has to be experienced. It;s not about words on paper. it is really hrd to talk ab ouit,

Joe Hinman said...

why do you think I just put the picture of Hiroshima after the bomb instead of using words to describe it? why did i make no commentary?

Eric Sotnak said...

why do you think I just put the picture of Hiroshima after the bomb instead of using words to describe it? why did i make no commentary?

Good point. So now if you could just post a picture of being-itself....

:)

Joe Hinman said...

LOL


would you settle for a picture of one hand clapping?