Friday, August 31, 2007

The Nature of Faith is Confussing in Modernity

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A lot of people are confused about the nature o faith. Some think these are contradictions. A big soruce of misconception s a popular definition of faith as "believing thing without reasons." Take a comment, one I find typical, from a recent message board encounter:

Originally Posted by Atheist_Devil View Post (carm aug 31 2007
I completely disagree with you. As Dan Barker calls it, faith is the "Great Escape".

So here we see the atheist take on faith still casting it in pejorative terms. The atheists set up their straw man definition of faith in which it is defined as "believing things without a reason. OF this is a totally inadequate definition.

Where do we turn for an understanding of faith? The best place would be the Westminster's Dictionary of Christian Theology, which is the official defining source of theological concepts. Here we see the simplistic bromide "faith is believing things without reasons" just wont do.

Westminster defines faith in a complex way, the article is very long and the definition is long.

The only atual Biblical definition of faith (Heb 11) does not encapsulate all that the Bible says on the subject, but indicates its main features 'the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.'

some translations say "evidence of things not seen. Faith is not a wild abandonment of logic, it is like faithfulness, it is a commitment to an understanding or a realization one takes as truth, and that realization can be gleaned from many sources including revelation, logic, personal experience. All of these things can be good reasons.

Westminster demonstrates the commitment aspect of faith in the sense of faithfulness which is part of the definition it gives for faith.

It is a confident obedient trust in the reality, in the power and love of God known through his acts, and an awaiting of their future consummation. The bible contains a variety of emphasis within this overall view. The noun 'faith' is comparatively rare in the OT where, (eg Hab 2.5) It may indicate faithfulness or loyalty to God rather than a passive reliance. But dependence upon God as distinct from human powers was imortant for Isaiah (7.9, 30.1-5). While the OT so often sees faith concertized as obedient action (Duet 6.1) the note of trust also resounds especially in the psalms.

Not to lose the complexity in a simplistic short hand, but we can encapsulate the OT view of faith as "trust, faithfulness, obedience." We see that is not passage acceptance of truth claims without reasons. The definition says the trust is based upon "The power of God" and that is a reason, it may one atheists don't like but it is a darn good one. If one has experienced the power of God in one's life one need no better reason.

In the Synoptic Gospels those who respond to Jesus' proclamation of the kingdom and respond to his salvific powers, are commended for their faith (Mark 2.5, 5.3) Unbelief is a hardness of heart a refusal to accept the immediacy of God's saving power (Mark 6.1).

Atheists have a strong tendency to deny that belief is a choice. They seem to think that it is some conclusion one is compelled to by logic, or maybe by stupidity; although in the context of religious belief they say that faith is antithetical to reason. They are missing the boat, in this definition we see that Jesus expected us to make a commitment, that is the essence of faith (from the last preceding quote). The basic skeptical position is hardness of heart, refusal to accept immediacy of God's saving power.

The dictionary lists tensions with faith. Tension is a favorite concept among theologians. It means the pull exerted between two seemingly contradictory ideas which are both true and yet conflict in some way. Tension is not a real contradiction but often results form either misunderstanding wrong emphasis. Tensions with faith are:

The first on the list is faith vs works, which I will not go into here. The second is faith verses reason. That's the atheists cease upon as a contradiction but they are driven by the wrong understand ing of faith. The Catholics have always recognized that "reason was capable of demonstrating the existence of God." (Ibid) while Protestants tended to down play reason as the product of the fallen human mind. The source of the modern misunderstanding of faith is the result of historical accident. It comes from the skeptical crisis in early modern Europe. This is specifically the 1600s, after the religious wars, when the Protestants and Catholics squared off against each other to decide which was the true way, faith or reason. We need to take note of a couple important thing here:

(1) the Catholics did not say "boo faith we like reason." They said faith and reason are not enemies. Faith and reason work together.

(2) the Prots did not say "reason is no good don't ever reason" they said human understanding can't equal the truth of God, faith is required for salvation so faith is over reason.

(3) The Prots did something else interesting: they turned to empirical proof rather than logic as the exposition of reason. The Catholics like logic because they Aquinas and the logic of their God arguments. the Prots had God arguments too but they preferred their own empirical God arguments such as the design argument.

The Protestants also used a form of Scholasiticm that was more rigorous than the Catholics version (and purposely so, to counter the Catholic intellectual heritage) but this went by the way side when they place all their epistemic eggs in the science basket. As a result seventeenth century Protestantism was instrumental in the rise of modern science. On the Catholic side Descartes made his name writing philosophy which was in direct response to the Church's request that the enter the battle on their side and help defeat the intellectual claims of the protestants. that is what produced the meditations. That whole period is known as "the skeptical crsis of early modern Europe." It was a major problem and created vast social upheaval and led to the rise of modern science as a means of checking reality. A major part of the struggle was over which to accept, tradition and authority or empirical proof. Tradition and authority were the answer of the faith camp. One might be tempted to think that this was the answer of the faith only camp but not so. It was the reason camp (Catholics) who construed tradition and authority extensions of reason. It was the faith only camp (Protestants) who developed empirical experimental methods as an extension of faith. Although a Catholic invented range and domane (Descartes) and a Catholic invented statistical probability. All of these things came out of this era and had some tangential connection to the skeptical crisis.

My dialog partner continues:

When faith is invoked, you've admitted you've lost the rational argument and have retreated into the land of conjecture, speculation and maybe. Believers are not on the same intellectual plane.

This is because he misconstrues faith as "being stupid and beilef without reason." Kierkegaard called faith "irrational" but he did not mean by that blind stupidity crashing around and accepting stupid things. He meant an existential encounter, first hand face to face experience of truth. For him logic was hypothetical, only on the pages of books. He wanted engagement with God!

Faith is a free-for-all. If one faith claim is accepted, any other faith claim can be "true" as well. All it takes is "belief". How egalitarian! Everything is as good as everything else with no standard used to make these world views held to account. Ah, but there is a standard, isn't there. It's called results.

Of course the claim that I "admitted this" is nonsense, I don't' know what I said that made him assume this. But in anyway, he does the point, how can choose between conflicting tenets of faith? I really don't think this is a very tough one, although the answer may allude many people. The answer is bipolar:

two tensions

(1) On the one hand, there is the personal existential aspect of faith.

This is what people are seeing when they give that most annoying of answers: "it's truth for you." This is the kind of relativism that makes fundies cringe. But I have to admit I do my cringing too when I hear it, even though I think I have a handle on it.

This is not saying that truth very from one person to another, although some who use that phrase, I can't help but feel really think that. It means that since we don't understand truth exhaustively the existential commitment is what I recognize immediately as truth, even though ti's really just similitude. This is an aspect of my understanding that is standing in for truth since our understanding of truth is limited. It's personal commitment, that is it my on self defining moment that clarifies for me what I'm willing to faithful to as a sense of ideal and idea.

It's a way of saying "I am willing to keep my commitments, as long as I understand truth this way I will treat this as truth." This is the nature of the case an needs must be, because your understanding of God is pathetic. We can't possibly stack up to the reality of God, it's too overwhelming. Everything we know of God has to be metaphor because we just handle the way God really is. It's beyond words and thus beyond anything we know.

(2) the use of logic.

On the other hand, at the other end of the pole is the use of logic to understand. We can sort our competing truth claims by the use of logic. The atheist bromide that faith is anti ethical to logic is simply wrong. Logic is the standard we can use to sort out competing truth claims, even if they are the result of this other pole of personal existential commitment to perceived truth. How can these two co-exist without contradicting? Logic is also a personal commitment. It is an objective truth finding mechanism but we are not objective creatures. We cannot be objective. Objective truth exists "out there" but we just can't understand it exhaustively. For this reason we must hold our logical conclusions as personal existential commitments so we don't' impose them harshly upon others, but we can live by them ourselves.

Westminster Dictionary of Christian Theology
. ed., Alan Richardson and John Bowden, Great Briton:Westminster Press, 1983.207

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Cartesian Epistemology

We tend to think of epistemology as fashioned by Descartes. the rationalist constructs a neat little system for obtaining certain knowledge. At the time that Descartes came up with the cogito Europe was embroiled in a crisis of skepticism. The Skeptics weren't just anti-religious, though, they were Calvinists! The Calvinists challenged church authority, and the church was the gate keeper of knowledge. So Descartes' system was aimed at wrecking the arguments of the Calvinists, who despised reason and militated for faith as the ulimate route to knowledge.

Descartes failed in that he didn't bring everyone back to the RCC, but he succeeded beyond his wildest in that he established the method of empirical scientific proof through statistical verification, or helped to do so. Since that time we have tended to think of epistemology as a need little discipline that sets out a systematic system and 1,2,3 we have the truth because we know how we know.

But it doesn't work that way in modernity. Things are too complex. One thing that happened since WWII was a current in German thought that goes back to Brintano and the 19th century came to fruition in the guise of a Nazi, even one accepted in the land of the Nazi deafters.

I speak of course of Heigeggerian epistemology. That is a very appropriate juncture for a Christian to move into thinking about epistemology, since Heidegger was influenced by two major Christian thinkers, in the liberal tradition; the 'father' of modern liberal theology, Schleiermacher, and the "father" of modern existentialism, Keirkegaard. Both were devout Christians.

This phenomenological perspective runs parell to the perspective of mystical religious experience, which is the most sure fire safe guard on faith of which I know.

Heideggerian phenomenology proceeds from a point of allowing the phenomena to suggest their own categories. Rather than "gathering" all data into a heap and forcing it into pre conceived categories, the phenomenologist begins with the root of the experince in sense data and phenomena, and rather than insisting upon filing it where he thinks it goes, he mentally allows the phenomena to suggest its own category.

That means in practicle terms experiencing the presence of God rather than insisting through rationalistic means that God exists and God is thus and so. One experiences God and then comes to an understanding of the nature of God.

Now I'm not saying that this can be a total epistemology in and of itself. We also have empirical knowledge and revelation. But you know my view on revelation of the Bible, that is a recored f people's experiences of god; that is very phenomenological. rather than be dictated their theological tenets, they recored their expediences and that becomes the tenet as the community compares it to its own experiences; the dialectical presence model of inspiration that Barth and others spoke of.

posted by J.L. Hinman @ 1:02 AM

Monday, August 27, 2007

Someone Miserable for God

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When I first got saved mother Teresa won the Nobel Prize having been brought before the public by Malcolm Muggeririge's book Something Beautiful for God. I immediately was inspired by the book and by the image of Mother Teresa.

<So Mather T had doubts? Since the papers have been published atheists all over the net have been buy making denuding saints and debunking perfection while they can. Two major versions of this argument are common.

(1) Religion must be a like if the most religious people have doubts.

(2) Christians can't say atheists have no morals, because mother Teresa counts as an atheist and she's the most moral Christian.

Of course the first argument is just childish gainsaying. I wont even dignify it. Of course people have doubts. Mother T was a human and humans doubt. It's stupid to think they wouldn't. I do have a couple of conversations about it.

First, I think for me the most disappointing thing is that this woman whom I admired and thought of so highly was in an agonizing existence as she struggled with her faith. It makes me feel bad for her. I hope she found resolutions. Now does this shake my faith? No not at all.In a sense it's kind of a relief. If the greatest example of Christian sacrifice in modern times can have agonizing doubt then my own doubt is not so bad. I am not a spiritual failure just because I doubt. Because look at how the most spiritual person doubts! Moreover, her doubts and her agonizing were relay indicative of a very spiritual person, a person of faith. Her doubt was not real doubt. I'm sure it was doubt but it was not skepticism. She was not an atheist she was not poised to become an atheist.

Mother T expressed doubts of the sort expressed by people who believe deeply when their belief is shaken, not skeptical doubt that seeks to tear down the belief of others. This is typified by her longing for God. "where is God how I long for God" these are the kind of things people say when they want more religious experience, not the sort of things people say when they are ready to throw out religion form their lives. That she thougth she was a hypocrite is typical of saints. Saints care. They strive to be perfect and often fail because the are human. The things she says sound just like ST. John of the Cross in the dark night of the soul.

Mother Teresa, who worked for years among the poor of Calcutta, wrote in 1958: "My smile is a great cloak that hides a multitude of pains."

Because she was "forever smiling", people thought "my faith, my hope and my love are overflowing and that my intimacy with God and union with his will fill my heart. If only they knew . . ."

Mother Teresa, who was greatly admired by Diana, Princess of Wales, said in another letter: "The damned of Hell suffer eternal punishment because they experiment with the loss of God.

"In my own soul, I feel the terrible pain of this loss. I feel that God does not want me, that God is not God and that he does not really exist."

Il Messeggero, Rome's popular daily newspaper, said: "The real Mother Teresa was one who for one year had visions and who for the next 50 had doubts - up until her death."

Her years of doubt coincided with the period when, after having visions, she decided to leave her teaching post at a privileged Calcutta school to help India's poor.

Real atheists don't talk about how they long for union with God. This is the plaintive cry of a mystic who has deeply imbibed of the Spirit and wants more. This is a true dark night of the soul. That does not make one a hypocrite or a skeptic it makes one a mystic and a saint.

As for argument 2, about atheist ethics. Anyone rash enough to say that atheists have no morals needs to know something about ethics, and about atheists. Of course atheists have morals, and them because God put them there. That is really a terrible argument. We need to expunge that from the Christian arsenal immediately. We should only argue in terms of the need to ground ethical axioms not the ethical nature of the opposition or lack of same. That really just becomes ad hom argument.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Jesus Christ and The Importance of Historicity.

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History is Probability

"Topos" is a Greek word that means "location" or "seat." Where is the location of historicity? What is the exact point at which one can say "this is historicity?" But there is a more fundamental question implied in finding the topos of historicity, and that is "what is the crucial point at which historicity takes on theological meaning?What aspects of being historical are so crucial that, if other wise proven to be not historical, the Christian faith would crumble?

All history is probability. No one can empirically prove an "historical fact," for that would require being able to repeat the experiment or to otherwise witness the event for oneself. Obviously history by its nature as part of times arrow does not allow either of these options. Thus history is a non-empirical social science. WE can't go back in time and watch George Washington cross the Delaware, but we can assume that he did so because we have documents that refer to it which contain eye witness testimony and which we have no good reason to doubt.

For this reason history is a matter of documents. Those we call "historians" were writing in the time of Christ, such as Tacitus and Josephus, but they were not professionals nor academics. History as an academic social science has only existed since the 19th century. As a science history still has a ways to go and it will never be the sort of science that one might find in sociology or biology. The major theorists of an academic discipline of history writing in the late 19th century, set forth the model that history is a matter of what can be documented from the past. For this reason history is primarily a matter of documents, but that means that there are huge cracks in our understanding that can never be filled. For that reason historians assess the nature of historical "fact" as a form of probability. George Washington probably did exist and he probably did cross the Delaware to fight the Hesseians at Princeton (and other places) but that is no more an empirical fact that Christ resurrection from the dead. The probably of Washington crossing the Delaware is much higher historically speaking than that of the Resurrection, but it is no more certain in an absolute sense. Yet when all historians agree to it we can place a very high degree of confidence in it and we speak of it as a "fact" because we assume that it is one.

The problem is that when one attaches religious significance to a document some certain group of people will decide that this is intrinsically to be doubted. What these people don't understand is that 90% of what we know about the ancient world comes to us from documents that one could doubt for the same reasons that atheists usually doubt the Bible (because they are recorded in religiously polemical documents).

Consider the case of Josephus. Most atheists assume that Josephus is an authority to be trusted and few people anywhere would assert that he didn't exist. This is because we have no reason to suspect that he didn't, and he is our basis for knowledge of about 80% of what happened in the first century. But one could argue that Josephus didn't exist, or that most of his writings were made up. Using the same criteria that Christ myther's use for deciding that Christ didn't exist or that 90% of what is reported about him was made up, one can make the same kinds of arguments. First, Josephus' writings must have been controlled by Christians from an early period because we have no texts with totally lack the bits about Jesus. If that was made up then certainly Jo's works were controlled by Christians from the earliest times. Now secondly, Josephus gets wrong the year that the Roman legions of Vespasian left Palestine, but Jo was there so how could he get that wrong? It must be that his works are made up! The whole of Josephus works were made up to advocate the Jewish-Christian cause and that explains the passage where he says he got his friend off the cross before sunset, that was put in there to show that Joseph of Aramethia could do the same with the body of Jesus. Why else does he use the name Jospeh so much like the name Josephus?

Of course I'm being sarcastic. None of these arguments hold water and no historian would accept them, but they cannot be disproved! It's just that historians don't waste their time with BS conspiracy theories or silly assertions. It is also the case that since Josephus forms the bulwark of our knowledge about that period, historians are not eager to lose his testimony. The point is that the same criteria could be used to dislodge Josephus as have been advocated to dislodge the New Testament (minus the textual proof of redaction, but there some evidence of redaction in some of Josephus, consider the Slavic and Arabic manuscripts)!

The point is that in deciding the nature of historical fact we cannot let such things as "this document is a religious polemic" decide the matter. We have to assume that the presence of a document is enough to tell us something about the situation under which is was written, and that knowing something about who wrote a document and why, tells us something about the situation. Just being able to point out that a document is religious and is written for religious reasons, even polemical ones, is not enough to assume that the document is forgery or that it has not historical merit or information in it.

Thus we cannot rule out the historicity of the Gospels based upon these criteria. We have to formulate more specific textually critical reason for rejecting the documents of the New Testament. Now of course such reasons exist and are talked about among textual critics, But they don't just blindly rule them out merely because they are the New Testament.

Thus, we have to accept a certain probably about the historicity of the New Testament documents which can be established by textual criticism, but the basic assumption has to be that there is some basis in historical fact, that the writers have some connection with a tradition and that they understand themselves to be in that tradition. We cannot assume that they are engaging in pernicious motive or just making things up. After all, any history could be the result of such a plot but if one assumes this than one doesn't have scientific examination of what happened in the past. To have that one must assume that some things form the past can come to us form those who set out to record at least their understanding of what happened.

Not Historical but History making>

The category "history making" is not one used by historians. It is the brain child of German Theologian Jurgen Moltmann from the University of Tubengin. The reason for it is not to "make something true" as has been charged. It is not to over come a dirth of hard evidence, as has been charged on certain message boards. The reason for the category is to overcome a cheat, to get around a cheating argument by European intellectuals. The Marxists historians argue that since history is founded upon naturalistic principles and upon documentary hypothesis (as set out by Marx in The German Ideology) one cannot do history on the basis of the supernatural. Thus the resurrection could never be an historical question because it can never assumed by historians that it happened.

This is true, but it's still cheating in a sense. Because it means that no matter what the truth of that event it can never be understood in the way that Christian doctrine would assert because it just can't be part of history (remember history is not what "really" happened but the interpretation of the documentary trail of what happened).

So Moltmann says "OK we will just change the rules. Instead of grounding our understanding in the category of 'historical nature' we will ground it in the category of 'history making.'" The belief shaped history in the sense that history was shaped by the tradition which understood itself to be witness to the resurrection. Thus it is not the historicity of the event itself that we seek to prove. This can never be proven, it can only be embraced as an act of faith because we cannot go back in time and watch it happen. But we can embrace a certain probabilistic sense of it happening and we can understand it as the self identity of a community which went on to shape history as a result of its understanding of that event. There had to be, therefore, some kind of event for the group to have some kind of self understanding in relation to the event. That means that the arguments about the resurrection must become an attempt to assess the probabilities of various theories as to the nature of this event which prompted such a self definition among the community.

What matters is not history but the history making aspects. That is, it is not an historical question, Was Jesus the son of God? Did he raise from the dead? These are not things that can be proven historically, they are not part of history because they involve transcendence of the naturalistic framework under which history is assumed. That does not mean that I don't believe them, but it does mean that proving them is less important than living them. Should anyone think this is not sufficiently intellectual to justify the brain power it takes to grasp it, it's probably not, but just trying actually doing it. The point is that there is no intellectual shame in an existential encounter with the object of ultimate concern. So that is what really matters, that the teachings bestow Grace, that the church understood itself as the recipient of Christ's teachings (and with no small amount of confirming evidence form history) and it doesn't matter that it isn't "proven" or that the resurrection isn't considered historical. It is history making, history was shaped around that concept and around the churches understanding of itself as the guardian of Jesus' teachings.

Historical fact Vs Historical perspective

Since historical facts are probability in the fist place, the nature of any historical fact is not a matter of absolute proof but of the best evidence forming a degree of confidence in a probabilistic assertion. This means that naturalistic ideology will exclude the possibly of the resurrection a pariori, it also means that we can bring back in a certain probability based upon the category of the history making self understanding of the group.

But it also means that what matters more in terms of the resurrection is not historical fact but historical perspective. This is an observation only a theologian could love. It is not a view point of an historian, but since my first love was theology, I embrace it as a tenet of theological understanding. The historical persecutive I have cultivated tries not to impose the category of "fact" upon the claim of the resurrection, but to create spaces in which the claim can be held as a tenet of faith based upon its history making character. That means, I think it really happened, but the question is how to talk about it really happening when it is to be considered so improbable? Well, that is purely an ideological matter and depends more upon metaphysical assumptions to rule it out rather than any real historical evidence that would rule it out. Through the metaphysical assumption I make I rule it back in, but not as imposed "fact," rather, as the thing with which I fill the spaces created by the history making nature. In other words the history making concept is how we fill the cracks left between the probabalistic assertions of inductive reasoning.


Now what does all of this mean? It means first of all that I don't have to prove the resurrection in order to hold it as a doctrine and a tenet of faith. It also means that I can ground its true theological significance in the symbolic value of its transforming aspects without proving it as "fact" because for me it is an existential fact. I am transformed by it, thus for me it is a fact, if not a historical fact, then an existential one.

Nevertheless, I think the evidence does point to it as an actual fact, a literal resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth from the dead, but the important thing about that is its theological significance as a symbol. The fact that I think it really happened, although important, is only secondary in terms of having to prove things. I can prove that the affects of believing it are real.

That also means that I don't have to worry about all the details of the New Testament documents being in place. I assume that these documents were not written by those whose names they bare, and I assume that many of the details, are out of place chronologically and perhaps are only suggestive of the actual events. None of that matters in terms of transformative value.

Thus, the real topos of historicity is not in the stories and not in the documents but it is in the tradition which preserved the documents. The leaders of that tradition chose the documents based upon their connection with the original group withwhom the deposit of Christ's teachings were fist entrusted, the Apostles. Thus, we can assert that there is in some sense an historical core to the documents even if we are in the dark as to the exact nature of that core.

What ultimately matters is that the documents themselves are not understood within the tradition as literal epistemology but as a means of bestowing Grace. If Grace is bestowed to the reader then this is all that can be asked in terms of the reason for their preservation. This is all that need be accomplished.*

Nevertheless, we can come at this with an historical persecutive and ask what the documents do tell us about the history of the situation. That Jesus really did die on the cross that that his teachings really were indicative of the Kingdom of God puts a force behind the symbolic value that increases the efficacy of that, and that makes them indicative of a truth which can be demonstrated within a reasonable field of historical probability.

The historicity of Jesus is important, but the question is, what is important about it? Is it really so important to know that on a certain day Jesus did and said this or that? Or is it important to know that we have a generally accurate perception of the kinds of things Jesus did and the basic core of his teaching available to us? I contend that some historical elements are more important than others..

The Topos of Historicity"Topos" is just a fancy Greek term used in arts and hummanities circles for "place," or "location." I bring this up because I think what is most important is the understanding of and acceptance of the Tradition itself. I think the tradition is the safe guard of the historicity. This means that rather than some sort of historically empirical proof (of which there is no such thing) that Jesus really gave the sermon on the mount, the important thing is that the tradition loaded those teachings into its understanding of Jesus from an early period and to be a member of the community means to accept that teaching. This is so because this is what works. To accept Jesus, to accept God's grace through the mediation of Christ's atonement is transformative and offers a power for living which resolves the basic human problematic. The proof of that is in actually doing it, actually receiving it, not in historical arguments.

The Theological Lodown:

As I have said before, I believe that there is one universal experience of the Divine that stands behind all religions. The individual God figures in reach religion don't matter because they are preceded by this experience which is more basic, and they are created by cultural construct through which this experience must be flitted. But that is what happens when man tries to reach out to God mostly unaided. What happens when God decides to make one clear unmistakable statement that demonstrates exactly who he is and what he wants? Perhaps the best way to do that would be to come and tell us himself. That's what I believe happened with Jesus.

Now that still leaves problems of the ambiguity of language. But what is unambiguous is the actions. Not only are the actions of Jesus reflective of the divine in such enstances as forgiving the woman caught in adultery or in healing the sick and so forth, but they are unmistakable in his atonement on the cross. This is a statement of God's solidarity with humanity. That God would be willing to die for the sins of humanity and to die as one of the lowest in the social order demonstrates that God is on our side and is willing to identify with our lot, which is what solidarity is all about. Now never mind the fact that "it didn't hurt cause he was God" and silly arguments like that. The point is that it is a clear expression of God's willingness to identify with us. The only problem is that we have to return the favor and identify with him. It's still a search that can only concluded in the heart. So we must still make a decision and place our solidarity with God through giving our lives to Christ (Romans 6). But it works both ways and all we need to is examine the case to see that. Once having done that we receive transformation and we resolve the problematic involved in being human and that's what really matters because that is a lived experience and can be seen by anyone, it is not a matter of empirical evidence or of demonstration in an "objective" way. I'm not saying the history doesn't matter, and I do believe the historical stuff form the Gospels.

But what matters more than proving it as history is what it means to accept it as history. It doesn't mean being able to prove it (and in fact nothing in history is proven in the way that it is in science--all history is probability in a sense). What matters about accepting the history is understanding what it does for one to accept it. When one finds that this is the case and it does actually mediate transcendence one can find that the claims are at least true. They may or may not be true in a literal historical sense (and I think most of them are) but they are true in a transformative sense. If one is transformed than it would seem to be the point, the whole point involved in why would want to investigate religion in the first place. How to choose a tradition. Now as I have said, it is not a question of which religion is true but of which has the efficacy (I am speaking phenomenologically here--not theologically). That means, all religions mediate transformation to some degree, but some do so better than others. Human sacrifice for example is a less efficacious method, because it involves the necessity of cruelty and murder, and a grace oriented religion is more efficacious because it is more accessible to all. There are two such religions and two only: pure land Buddhism and Christianity. We can compare those two later. But in my view that is the reason to prefer a particular tradition, and to prefer the tradition with which I identify; because it mediates transcendence through Grace, which means one need not be good enough to merit God's favor. That makes it more accessible and in a sense it may make it more transformative. As Jesus said "he who has been foreign much loves much. We can open a new one to do the historical stuff (and don't worry, I will).

____________ *For a discussion transformative value (or Sacramental rather than epistemological understanding of the Scriptures) see Canon and Criterion in Christian Theology, by Willam Abrham, Oxford, 1998/2002.

For discussion of History making see Jurgan Moltmann, Theology of Hope,New York: Harpers, 1967

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Feeling of Utter Dependence and It's Relation to Being Itself

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"The name of infinite and inexhaustible depth and ground of our being is God. That depth is what the word God means. And if that word has not much meaning for you, translate it, and speak of the depths of your life, of the source of your being, of your ultimate concern, of what you take seriously without any reservation. Perhaps, in order to do so, you must forget everything traditional that you have learned about God, perhaps even that word itself. For if you know that God means depth, you know much about Him. You cannot then call yourself an atheist or unbeliever. For you cannot think or say: Life has no depth! Life itself is shallow. Being itself is surface only. If you could say this in complete seriousness, you would be an atheist; but otherwise you are not."

--Paul Tillich, The Shaking of The Foundations

I love this quote by Tillich. In a nutshell it says "if you understand that being has depth then you can't be an atheist."

What does this mean that being has depth? How do we know that it does? First let's unpack the statement:

"the name of the depth and ground of being is God." So God is the ground of being. Steady readers have seen me make this claim over and over again. But here ground of being is linked with something referred to as "depth of our being." So to understand the ground of being is to understand that being has depth. "speak of the depths of life of the source of being." So depth of our being has to do with the source of Being, which is the same as 'ground of being." All three are the same or related, ground, depth, and source.

It makes sense to say that God is the ground of being and the source of being. They mean the same thing. But depth what does that mean? Is depth source?

For if you know that God means depth, you know much about Him.

God means depth? So what it means to say being has depth is to say there is a God. God = depth. That would be the case if depth also = ground and source.

You cannot then call yourself an atheist or unbeliever. For you cannot think or say: Life has no depth! Life itself is shallow. Being itself is surface only. Here he's loading more into the term "depth" than just source because he's saying it is something more than just the fact of existing. It's more than just the source of being its also that being is more than just the fact of existence. Being is more than it seems on the surface. that's what he says isn't it?

It seems to me that Tillich is guilty of a kind of circular reasoning here. We know God exists if we know God exists. We know there's a God if we know that being has more to it than just the fact of existing, what that more is is God. So we know God exists if we know God exists. Well Tillich didn't like God arguments, I can see why.

Given that Tillich is not making a God argument, granted but there still must be some linear direction for this thinking to take. I think he is saying we know there's a God when we find that being is more than just the source level facts of existence. Just the act of realizing this is to realize the existence of God, for God is the source of being and that gives us the understanding of what depth of being is. The depth of being is it's relation to its source and the relation of all manifestations of being to the source. Just to under that there is more to things than there appear on the surface, is to understand there there is a source of being that transcends the mundane.

This realization is captured in the feeling of utter dependence. To my knowledge Tillich did not speak of the feeling, except in his lectures on History of Christian thought (edited by Karl Braaton) where he speaks of Schleiermacher. But the two are clearly linked. Both are realizations of God's reality through understanding the correlate of divine presence in it's effect upon us. Are these the same or two separate pathways to understanding God's reality?

In the search for an answer I would like to turn back to and unpack a statment made at the end of my essay (see my essay on Feeling of Utter Dependence, two posts ago) made by Roy Williams in his book Schleiermacher the Theologian

"It is the original pre-theoretical consciousness...Schleiermacher believes that theoretical cognition is founded upon pre-theoretical inter subjective cognition and its life world. The latter cannot be dismissed as non-cognative for if the life world praxis is non-cognitive and invalid so is theoretical cognition..S...contends that belief in God is pre-theoretical, it is not the result of proofs and demonstration, but is conditioned solely by the modification of feeling of utter dependence. Belief in God is not acquired through intellectual acts of which the traditional proofs are examples, but rather from the thing itself, the object of religious experience..If as S...says God is given to feeling in an original way this means that the feeling of utter dependence is in some sense an apparition of divine being and reality. This is not meant as an appeal to revelation but rather as a naturalistic eidetic"] or a priori. The feeling of utter dependence is structured by a correlation with its whence." , Schleiermacher the Theologian, p 4.

This quotation is saying that the true basis of belief is not logic or demonstration but the actual experience of the divine itself. But we cannot speak of the divine, yet we can speak of the correlate, the thing that is always found in relation to the divine the foot print in the snow so to say. This is the Derridian "trace" of God in the universe.

Schleiermacher believes that theoretical cognition is founded upon pre-theoretical inter subjective cognition and its life world. The latter cannot be dismissed as non-cognitive for if the life world praxis is non-cognitive and invalid so is theoretical cognition

"pre-theoretical" means the experience is prior to anything we think about it, it's not the result of theorizing about any constituent experience."intersubjective" means it's subjective but others are experiencing similar subjective things. This statement says that one might be tempted to dismiss this experience as non cognitive, or something that can't be considered cognitively such as a mood or disposition, but if this is the case then we can also dismiss all experience of our life world.Schleiermacher is saying that belief is predicated upon the experience of the feeling of utter dependence, which is a valid correlate of the experience of God. Belief is not the result of Intellectual demonstration or arguments. Does this mean that to turn the feeling into an "argument" is to destroy it or dismiss it? I think it would be a mistake to try and offer the feeling as demonstration of something in an empirical sense. It is certainly a rational warrant for belief. Since that is the standard of my decision making paradigm, it can be offered as such.

S...says God is given to feeling in an original way this means that the feeling of utter dependence is in some sense an apparition of divine being and reality. This is not meant as an appeal to revelation but rather as a naturalistic eidetic"] or a priori.

"offered in an original way" I take to be something like properly basic. The feeling is its own unique experience and connotes what might be logically taken for indication of a correlate to some co-determinate. It's a sign, the trace of God in the universe. But its not a revelation of God, it must be taken as an a priori, like my argument the religious a priori; religion is its own unique discipline not a dumed down version of science or ethics. It has to be taken on its own terms.This is what is meant by William's phrase: "the feeling of utter dependence is structured by a correlation with its whence." Just like the cause of the footprint in the snow is the thing that made the print, so the occasion for the feeling is predicated upon the thing the feeling is about. In other words, the content of religious experiences is religious, we can take that as experience of God.

Tillich bases the notion of being having depth upon our realization of the object of our ultimate concerns. God is that object since God is the final and ultimate embodiment of those concerns. Obviously these are the related areas. They both involve realizations of the same things, although to realize being has depth one need not necessarily express that in terms of utter dependence. But the feeling of UD is basically a realization that we are contingent creatures. To realize that being has depth one must realize that there is an aspect of being that warrants attention in a special way, that deserves to be set apart form the typical sense of the mundane. But there may be two different paths to the same realization; UD seems to be at a more removed level. One becomes cognizant of contingency, then one must realize that one is contingent upon something, and also that all things are contingent upon that same thing (unity in the world--the contingency is upon the same predicate which is what produced unity in the life world).

Saturday, August 04, 2007

Asking for Proof of God's Existence is Wrongheaded

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My arguments for God are not offered as proof. There are times that I get carried away by statments atheists make and assert that they are proof. I think a couple of them might be, but not of the time--when I'm rational--I argue them as "rational warrant for belief" only.

I really think the idea of demanding proof of the existence of God is silly, wrong headed and would require a sacrifice of the intellect. The Atheist dictum "you can't believe something without evidence" is not only wrong, it's asking one to abandon a deeper view of reality in favor of a shallow "quick fix" which would automatically bias the observer against understanding.

This is so because religion is not failed privative science. It is not watered down ethics, nor is it an off brand of epistemology with pointed hats and tasteless cookies. Religion is an attempt to resolve the human problematic. It is its own thing. It's not unreduced to other forms of discourse, it's a priori it's own.

religion doesn't necessarily require a god, but for those that have a view of God it is not a matter of proving an empirical bit of knowledge about the world. God is not a "thing" or a person or a man. God is not another thing alongside things in creation.

The whole point of calling God "being itself" is to get across the idea that Gos is on another level, set apart from "things" not to be counted as "just another bit of info." God is not given in sense data, thus is not an empirical question.

God is an existential question and is not a matter of proof. ordinary attempts at validation don't apply. God is a matter of personal conviction, that's all nothing more nothing less. to treat God as a thing to be proven like something one can study through sense data is to degrade the concept of God and to accept a view dinegrated and reduced from the full philosophical framework.

The framework necessary for understanding the Christian view of god is vast, it could be an academic subject in it's own right (we could call it ..."theology!")

The real question is not "prove there's a God" but "why do you believe?" Answering that question does not require proof.

which god is it? is not an intelligent question. But which tradition best mediates transformative power, that's the question!

Thursday, August 02, 2007

The Feeling of Utter Dependence.

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Decison Maknig Paraidgm."

Co-determinate: The co-determinate is like the Derridian trace, or like a fingerprint. It's the accompanying sign that is always found with the thing itself. In other words, like trailing the inviable man in the snow. You can't see the inviable man, but you can see his footprints, and wherever he is in the snow his prints will always follow.

We cannot produce direct observation of God, but we can find the "trace" or the co-determinate, the effects of God in the world.

The only question at that point is "How do we know this is the effect, or the accompanying sign of the divine? But that should be answere in the argument below. Here let us set out some general peramiters:

(1) The trace produced content with specifically religious affects

(2)The affects led one to a renewed sense of divine reality, are trans formative of life goals and self actualization

(3) Cannot be accounted for by altenate causality or other means.


(1) There is a pervading sense of unity in the life world

(2) The over all sense of unity produces a sense of the dependence of the whole upon a higher ontological level.

(3) The content of the experience is expressly sublime and evokes the sense of the numinous.

(4)The sense of the numinous is expressly religious and constitutes the co-determinate of the divine.


A.Religion not Reduceable to Knowledge or Ethics.

Frederich Shcleiermacher, (1768-1834) in On Religion: Speeches to it's Cultured Dispisers, and The Christian Faith .sets forth the view that religion is not reduceable to kowledge or ethical systems. It is primarily a phenomenological apprehension of God consciousness through means of religious affections. Affections is a term not used much anymore, and it is easily confused with mere emotion. Sometimes Schleiermacher is understood as saying that "I become emotional when I pay and thus there must be an object of my emotional feelings." Though he does venture close to this position in one form of the argument, this is not exactly what he's saying.

In the earlier form of his argument he was saying that affections were indicative of a sense of God, but in the Christian Faith he argues that there is a greater sense of unity in the life world and a sense of the dependence of all things in the life world upon something higher.

What is this feeling of utter dependence? It is the sense of the unity in the life world and it's greater reliance upon a higher reality. It is not to be confused with the stary sky at night in the desert feeling, but is akin to it. I like to think about the feeling of being in my backyard late on a summer night, listening to the sounds of the freeway dying out and realizing a certain harmony in the life world and the sense that all of this exists because it stems form a higher thing. There is more to it than that but I don't have time to go into it. That's just a short hand for those of us to whom this is a new concept to get some sort of handle on it. Nor does "feeling" here mean "emotion" but it is connected to the religious affections. In the early version S. thought it was a correlate between the religious affections and God; God must be there because I can feel love for him when I pray to him. But that's not what it's saying in the better version.

B.Platonic background.

The basic assumptions Schleiermacher is making are Plaontic. He believes that the feeling of utter dependence is the backdrop, the pre-given, pre-cognitive notion behind the ontological argument. IN other words, what Anselm tried to capture in his logical argument is felt by everyone, if they were honest, in a pre-cognitive way. In other words, before one thinks about it, it is this "feeling" of utter dependence. After one thinks it out and makes it into a logical argument it is the ontological argument.

C.Unity in the Life world.

"Life world," or Labeinswelt is a term used in German philosophy. It implies the world of one's culturally constructed life, the "world" we 'live in.' Life as we experience it on a daily basis. The unity one senses in the life world is intuitive and unites the experiences and aspirations of the individual in a sense of integration and belonging in in the world. As Heidegger says "a being in the world." Schleiermacher is saying that there is a special intuitive sense that everyone can grasp of this whole, this unity, being bound up with a higher relatively, being dependent upon a higher unity. In other words, the "feeling" can be understood as an intuitive sense of "radical contingency" (int he sense of the above ontological arguments).

He goes on to say that the feeling is based upon the ontological principle as its theoretical background, but doesn't' depend on the argument because it proceeds the argument as the pre-given pre-theoretical pre-cognitive realization of what Anslem sat down and thought about and turned into a rational argument: why has the fools said in his heart 'there is no God?' Why a fool? Because in the heart we know God. To deny this is to deny the most basic realization about reality.

Now dont' think by any stretch of the imagination that I think this proves the existence of God! No, no way. It is not "proof," it is freedom from the need to prove!

As Robert R. Williams puts it:

There is a "co-determinate to the Feeling of Utter dependence.

"It is the original pre-theoretical consciousness...Schleiermacher believes that theoretical cognition is founded upon pre-theoretical inter subjective cognition and its life world. The latter cannot be dismissed as non-cognative for if the life world praxis is non-cognitive and invalid so is theoretical cognition..S...contends that belief in God is pre-theoretical, it is not the result of proofs and demonstration, but is conditioned solely by the modification of feeling of utter dependence. Belief in God is not acquired through intellectual acts of which the traditional proofs are examples, but rather from the thing itself, the object of religious experience..If as S...says God is given to feeling in an original way this means that the feeling of utter dependence is in some sense an apparition of divine being and reality. This is not meant as an appeal to revelation but rather as a naturalistic eidetic"] or a priori. The feeling of utter dependence is structured by a correlation with its whence." , Schleiermacher the Theologian, p 4.