Saturday, February 18, 2006

Can "Being Itself" be Personal?

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The fundamental problem in understanding the "personal" nature of the ground of being is that our understanding of the problem is backwards to the truth of the solution. We think of God as "a being" because we are laden with the big guy in the sky Even those of us who feel we know better cannot help but draw an analogy between God's mind and the human mind. We can't help but think of God as thinking a we do. This is just a symptom of a deeper aspect of the problem; our understanding of what it means "to be." We think of "being" as just an abstraction of the concept of the verb "to be." Thus we look around us we say "I see that I am, I see that this object before me [my desk, my chair, my cup of coffee, whatever) Is, thus these are examples of what it is to be. We habitually think of being as punctual facts, "I am therefore I have 'to be.'" So for us being is an abstraction of the fact of existing. There is more to being than just the fact of things existing. The fact that something is can't be personal, nor can it be a conscious person. The fact that something is can't have a will or volition and it can't love me or you. But there is more to being than just the fact that something is.

First, Being is also an act. We are engaging in this act right now, even if we aren't moving. Rocks on the field that never change their relative position, and the stars in the sky that seem to be the most solidly fixed objects (even though relatively they do move) are all egging in an act as they sit apparently "motionless." That is to be, and the act of being is engaged in second by second. Moreover, Being is more than an act. We are looking at being existentially, that is to say--according to its appearance to us as a fact pertaining to existence -- but there are other ways to look at it. Paul Tallish, on the other hand, said explicitly (in Systematic Theology Vol. I) that Being Itself does not refer to an existential fact but to an ontological status. What is being said is not that God is the fact of the being of some particular object, but, that he is the basis upon which being proceeds and upon which objects participate in being? In other words, since God exists forever, nothing else can come to be without God's will or thought; and since there can't even be a potential for any being without God's thought, all potentialities for being arise in the "mind of God" then in that sense God is actually "Being Itself." I think "Ground of Being" is a less confusing term. God is the ground upon which all being is based and from which all being proceeds. The acts of being in which our individual lives engage flow out of that one primary eternal act which is God. The thing doing the action is NTO merely a fact, not merely an act, but an actor, a consciousness with will and volition. This consciousness forms the basis for all that is. God is The ultimate framework of reality, In that context God is the ground of being, and as such, God's will and volition and consciousness, such as it is, forms the agency through which subsequent acts of being can be.

It is the basic tension between the limitlessness of being (the infinite) Vs the limited nature of our own lives, the context in which our act of being are played out, that evokes the sense of the numinous; the basis of religious sensibilities. In this way we form the basis of our own religious nature. Atheists try to understand religion through the lends of empiricism, they cast it in the role of a primitive failed science; for them, religion exists as a failed explanation for why things work. But Clearly religion is much more than that, as I have documented elsewhere, mystical exprnice is at the center of all organized religion. The only real reason to believe is if and when and because God seems real to us. God becomes a reality in our lives, not because we can explain things, not because we need a crutch, but because we experience the power and presence of God. What we encounter in that power and presence is love. Those who encounter the power of God as a reality in their lives usually experience a sense of God's love. This experience can sometimes be so strong that it carries them on to spread love into the world. But it is foolish to think of an impersonal form of love that has no basis in reality. Love must be personal or it is not love. A mere force of attraction like magnetism cannot be called "love" beaus the very term implies will. Love = the will to the good of the other.

Several theologians, Tallish among them, have noticed a link between love and being. Joel Gravure's summary of Hans Urs Von Balthasar's Retrospecitiveof his theology (1988).

The meaning of being lies in love, and knowledge is only explainable through love and for love. The will which exists in the object to open itself and the will which exists in the knowing subject to open itself in receptivity are the double form of the surrender which manifests itself in these two ways. From this follows the insight that love is never separable from the truth. Just as little as there could be knowledge with the will, so also truth is hardly knowable without love.

Garver on Balthasar:

He starts with the philosophical wrangling of humanity: we recognize our own fainted and contingency as well as the contingency of the world of things around us—and yet we are aware of being itself as something absolute and unlimited. Various philosophical and theological attempts have been made at explaining the problem of being.

Some (such as Parminades) have tried to say that all things are infinite and immutable being, while others (such as Heraclitus) have said that everything is movement and becoming. The Parmenidean solution—which is also that of Buddhism and neo-Platonism—falters since anything finite must be non-being, an illusion to be discovered, and the One is attained only through mystical experience. The Heraclitean solution must end in contradiction, identifying life with death, wisdom with folly. We are left then with an inescapable dualism between finite and infinite, contingent and necessary, and so on.

In other words, Balthasar recognizes the link between love and being. That link is also the basis of knowledge, but all attempts to reconcile the sense of duality that emerges from the realization, outside of the Christian God have failed. The Christian God solves the problem through the Trinitarian solution, because God creates out a desire but not out of a need. Through Trinity God is self sufficient, containing both the other and the self at the same time. Thus, love, being, knowledge and community all wrapped up in one thing, and their place in world flows out of God's disbursement.

The basic link between love and being is marked by Tallish and John Mcquarrie as well: for both theologians the link is the giving nature of both love and being. Both being and love bestow upon the other; being bestows the act of being upon the beings, and bestows "the good" (the will for the what is best) upon the other. Both are active, they are "on" as opposed to off. When we think about the most basic distinction between being and nothingness, that would be the distinction between "on" and "off." On would be positive, there, acting, giving out, participatory, existent. Nothingness is "off," not being, non existence.
Nevertheless, we tend to ground our understanding of what being is in our experiences of what it is to be. We structure our sentences in such a way as to indicate that any particular thing is just one of many things existing along side one another in creation. I say that God is 'necessary being' not "a necessary being," not because I forgot the "a" but because God is not "a being." He is above the level of any particular being that participates in being, but exists on the level of the Being, the thing itself, apart from any particular beings. There is Being, and there is "the beings." This is a crucial distinction, but it leaves one wondering what it means and how it could be. What is being said here is not that God is some magical form of abstraction, but that God is the first, and highest and only necessary thing that exists, and thus, had God not created, God would be the only thing that exists? Could one somehow ponder a universe in which God had not created, in which God was all that was, one might well ask "what is it to be in this universe where there is only God?" In such a universe the only conceivable answer is "to be is to be God." In that sense God is Being Itself. In other words, the sense in which God is "being itself" is the sense in which all being is founded upon God as it' source and origin. God is the gate keeper of being, the foundation of Being.

The question is, was God more than just a Spinoza-like "ground of understanding" for Tillich? My reading of Tillich sees him as patterning his notions after the great Mystics of the Eastern church and that of Mraciea Eliade. Some readings see it as more of an impersonal principle. God is the "unbounded condition," "being itself," and being itself can't be "a person." Instead, Tallich calls God the personal itself. In other words, God is the ground of the personal, he basis upon consciousness can be found in the universe. We should not expect to recognize God as "a person" in the sense that we are persons, not with personality problems, and a limited persecutive of isolation and epistemological uncertainties, but this does not preclude the conscious. God would contain the basic structure of consciousness and thus would be able to have volition and personal awareness. This goes back to the problem with the way we understand being. Just as we think of being as the momentary individual instance of an existing thing, we think of consciousness as only the by product of an individual Brian for an individual organism. If consciousness is a basic property of nature than it might be "ground up" and shared by all "the beings" in differing degrees. In my own reading of Tillich's high theological parlance, and it's a matter of decoding a very dense set of terms, they do not so much reveal an impersonal foe as God, as they reveal an apophatic approach to understanding a view of God that embraces the mystical and cannot be defined according to human logic.This is similar to the Buddhist notion, Tillich's God is "neither a person nor a non person" (Buddhist = neither mind nor non-mind).
In answer to the question "can Being Itself Be understood as 'a personal being?" "No," because Being Itself is not "a being" and is not personal in the sense of human finitude. Now, does that mean that "it" (God = Being Itself) can't will, can't be motivated by volition and can't love? Tillich's view would allow for all of these, that Dionysius' view, that of Augustine and Luther and many others would allow for these things. God does love and does will. Tillich's langauge, while not really apophatic in the traditional sense I think is functioning in that way, rather than just being merely equivolcal. We cant' expalin everything. It would be foolish to pretend to explain everyhthing. Any theological view must speak to the faith concerns of the day without pretending to make God transparent. To that end Tillich must have a view which works within the mystery, and while shedding light, doesn't try to expose the mystery itself.He makes the point (Systematic Theology vol I) (p240) that religious symbol "has nothing to do with the empirical assertions involved in it, be they physical pschological, or historical." He goes on to say that a religious symbol must express a corrolation between the relation of the symbol and the thing it symbolizes and it is true if it adequately expresses the relation some person with final revelation. "Religious symbols are double edged, they are directed twoard the infinite which they symbolize and toward the finite through which they symbolize it." But than he says: as an example of the above, "If God is symbolized as father he is brought down to the relationship of father and child, but at the same time this human relationship is consecrated into a pattern of the divine human relationship."Than he begins to examine basic qualities or attributes and how they fit his notion of symbol.

"The basic ontological structure is transcendent in the divine life without providing symbolic material. God cannot be called a self, because the concept of self implies seperation from everything that is not self. God cannot be called the world even by implication. Both self and world are rooted in the divine life, but they cannot become symbolic for it...But the elements which constitute the basic ontological structure can become symbols because they do not speak of kinds of being (self and world) but of qualities of being which are valid in their proper sense when applied to all beings and which are valid in their proper sense when applied to Being ITself..."

Furthermore, he goes on right after this, still expliaining how these ontological forms can work when God trasncendes them, still speaking of the problem that God is not a person, but is he the ultaitme person itself, and he says:

"The Solution of the difficulties of the phrase "personal God" follows form this. Personal God does not mean that God is a person, it means that God is the ground of everything personal and that he carries within Himself the ontological ground of personality.He is not a person,But he is not less than personal"...and goes on... "God is the principle of individuation as well as the principle of participation.The divine life participates in every life as its ground and aim. God participates in everything that is..."(Ibid, 245)


HOw can being itself be consciuos, or "personal?" Being itself is more than just the fact of existence and more than indivudal act of existence, it is also the source of existnece; it is the foundation or basis upon which thigns come to be. That source is the personal itself, the bassi of consciousness, which is a basic property of nature. The nature of God's consciousness would ot appear as personality to us. We cannot be sure that God diliberates or indulges in ratiocentination, but can be relatively sure that God seeks to fulfill a will and a volition.

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