Thursday, May 26, 2011

What About American Films?


For years I labored under a stereotype that European film is all art and brilliance and American film is all dazzling technology, car chases and explosions. It does seem that way. I think when one discovered European Cinema living in America and having known nothing but American films before, being so alone is loving the art film, one tends to look down upon the home grown product and not consider the good aspects. In the last few years I have began to explore the greatness of American cinema too. I discovered European art films in high school way back in the 70s with an early PBS show called "Film Odyssey." Now I'm going back and finding great films made in America. The following list are the top 15 because I want to counter the stereotype so I'll list more films. While it is true that a much greater percentage of American films are car chases and explosions there are many American films that I think stand up proudly beside the best European or Asian films. I must make a couple of qualifications:

First of all I only consider films made between 1931 (advent of sound) and 1972. I feel that in this period cinema really blossomed as art and the artistic aspect have waned greatly since then even in Europe. There were great art films before this period, they were silent (Fritz Lang Metropolis--1927-- and for America D.W. Griffith's Intolerance--1917). There have been great art films since I'm sure. Yet I think film as art flourished between 1931 and 1972 and it's just hanging on afterword. The reasons are summed up well by Jean Renoir in a lecture that is found in extra material in the DVD version of Elena and her men, put out by Netflix.

There are some films that are great within their genre but not compared to films at large. For example I would put Creature from the Black Lagoon in my top 10 Horror/sci fi genre but not on my top 10 of all time great films. Some films that are firmly in a genre but transcend it. Such a film is the Day the Earth Stood Still (see list below). Another would be (comedy) the Bell Boy by Jerry Lewis (see list).

(1) Citizen Kane (1941)
Directed by Orson Wells
starring Orson Well, Joseph Cotton, and with Agnes Morehead

This is not really my favorite movie. It's universally recognized as the greatest American film ever made, so it's obligatory to put it number one. It is a very great film. It's an open secret that it was patterned after the life of Newspaper Tycoon William Randolph Hurst, and that Well's film career was ruined by making it due to Hurt's anger, at least tha'ts been said by some. It was his first first film or at least fist major film. He did make other great films. Nevertheless it's really film about the American Spirit. A fascinating portrait of a sociopath who battles way to wealth power stepping on friends along the way, only continue to long for some forgotten childhood dream that he never found. The illusive goal of his search is incapsulated in his inignmatic dying utterance "rosebud." The film is about a reprise of his life by a reporter seeking to discover what rosebud really was. We find out at the end, the reporter never does it was a sled he had and loved as a child. We see the sled being burned at the end, just one item in a huge collection of junk once prized now useless to anyone after his death.

Wells shows his true brilliance by slicing together two desperate methods of film making, cinema vérité and Montage. The famous breakfast scene which crams 20 years of marriage into a five minute look at the couple at breakfast over the years, which is one of the most famous aspects of the film.

I love the Saturday night live parody which ends with the realization that he did not say "rosebud" but "ham, chase, henry." The reporter goes off trying to find who Henry was (french pronunciation) only to see a menu being burned featuring McDonald's advertisement for Ham on cheese with Rye (Henry, On-ree--on rye).


(2) Dr. Strangelove: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964)

directed by Stanly Kubrick
Peter Sellers
Peter Sellers , Peter Sellers, and Peter Sellers.
(yes, he plays three different characters in the same movie)

George C. Scott George C. Scott...

Sterling Hayden ...

Keenan Wynn ...

Slim Pickens ...

Peter Bull ...

James Earl Jones ...

Tracy Reed ...

Jack Creley ...

Frank Berry ...

Robert O'Neil ...

Glenn Beck ...
Lieutenant Kivel (as Glen Beck)

Roy Stephens ...

Shane Rimmer ...

Hal Galili ...

This may be my most favorite film of all time. At least for an American film. As an art film I would put up with anything from Europe, except it's a comedy. It scared the hell out of me as a child. I expected the world to end any day and I worried, no I agonized over nuclear war for days after seeing it. It may have set me on the entire political path fo the left with that one film. The portrait of the stupidity of the military and the right wing politicians and the cold war is overwhelming. What I did not get as an eight year old child watching it was that is totally hilarious. The anti-war statement is far more powerful as a comedy. As a drama it's way to serious to think about. People would have dismissed it. The Day After was a powerful film but it didn't change that many attitudes I don't, Regan still won by a land slide. Nucelar war durning the cold war was the ultimate topic, way too serious to approach serous. As a comedy it's perfect for laying bare the stupidity of the times.

It's a remarkable film for many reasons. Peter Sellers pays three characters, everyone and his dog is in it. I'll never forget the line by Keenan Wynn (colonel Bat Guano), who is asked to break open a coke machine so the Peter Sellers in his guise as a British exchange officer call the President and tell him the general (Starlin Hyden as General Jack Ripper) has just started World War III, and Guano says "Ok but you are going to have to answer to the coca cola company." It so prefectly lays bare the stupidity of the mind set that created the cold war and the Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD) Policy. It's iconic last scene where Slim Pickins rides the bomb to the earth like a Bronco waving his cowboy had and shouting "Yeeeehaaa!" If only he could have gotten Regan to play that scene American history might have been very different. The world ends when the bomb hits and the last images are of mushroom clouds and a song "tell them I was singing" is playing.

(3) Paths to Glory. (1957)
Directed by Stanley Kubrick
starring: Kirk Douglas

This is turely one of the greatest and most over looked American films of all time.It really is never mentioned, it was his first major film. I would put it up against almost any European film. I would compare it favorably with anything by Robert Bresson. That is whose style this film reminds me of the most. It's not like other Kubrick films. Very different form Dr. Strangelove or 2001 a Space Odyssey. It's much more traditional in the way it's made, it's a drama set in World War I and it's filmed in the older way of pre 60s "old cinema." Meaning the establishing shots are traditionally done, the camera is not looking for new angels and there no avaunt guard techniques, just a too story well filmed. It has a very European flavor since it's about French soldiers. It is about a group of soldiers whose commander realized are supposed to be wasted as canon fodder and they all rebel. They are all arrested adn face the firing squad and there's a race to find witnesses to save them while the top brass fix the proceeding to protect the incompetent general who caused the problem.

The French flavor of this film is so like a real French film, no Hollywood hokum no one saying "zat is zee ting" (no fake accents). Speaking as a consure of French film, if I saw this and didn't know who made it and was told it was by a French director I would believe it. Although I might notice no subtitles and no back over dubbing.


(4) On the Water Front (1954)
Directed by
Elia Kazan

starring: Marlin Brando, Karl Malden, Lee J. Cobb, Rod Steiger

This is a great film and it's a joy to watch. Unfortunately Elia Kazan had a rough break in his directing career. He caved to the McCarthy hearings and named names. So he was counter black listed by liberals in Hollywood. He never really got to make this kind of film again. He never got the recognition he would garnered had that not happened.

On the Water Front is a film about the relationship of two brothers and the social oppression of labor unions by mobsters. Marlin Brando knows who killed a man who was going to be a witness at a Senate committee on organized crime, then he wants to come clean but he's under treat from his brother who is working with the mob.


(5) Salt of the Earth (1954)
Directed by Herbert J. Biberman
Starred:Will Geer

written and produced by the "Hollywood ten" the major film makers and witers black listed by McCarthy. This is like the counter to the previous, except it came out the same year. The black listed Hollywood writers decided to band together and make one film where they could get their social causes aired one last time as a film makers. It's about Latin workers in the American agricultural industry and the racism and hardships they face. It also strikes an early blow for feminism more than a decade before the feminist movement. The wives of the striking workers show their true strength as women.


(6) Who's Afraid of Virginia Wolf? (1966)
Directed by: Mike Nichols
Starred: Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton, George Segal, and Sandy Denis.
Orginal Play by Edward Albee

Edward Albee was a major Play write in that day. He's been forgotten a bit I think, but in the early 60s one heard of him all the time. His place The American Dream was one of the first intellectual book I ever read. On the surfac this film appears to be just a vehicle for Liz Taylor and Richard Burton to show off their acting prowess, meaning long on weeping, wailing, crying, shouting, back biting and being drama queens, and short on plot. Below the surface it's an interesting existential drama. Two married couples, both associated with the faculty of the same university, get together to socialize and wind up spending an anguishing night the marraige of the older couple (Burton/Taylor) unravel but it refuses to die quietly. The two persist in verbal sparring and all sorts of back stabbing until one is forced into a situation where the other must expose himself/herself as a fraud.


(7) Night of Iguana (1964)
Directed by John Houston
Starred: Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton,Deborah Kerr, Cyril Delevanti
Original Play by Tennessee Williams

More of the same existential drama. Defrocked minister winds up as a tour guide,a washed up Artist caring for and living off of a washed up Poet grandfather, all wind up in the same Mexican hell hole with no place to go and no place hide, and must finally confront themselves and their failures.


(8) Easy Rider (1969)
Directed: Dennis Hopper
Starred: Peter Fonda, Dennis Hopper

They take drugs, ride around on motor cycles and get blown away by rednecks on the highway. It set the stage for the new breed of independent film and new style of film making. It represented in the first clear step away form the Hollywood movie making system. It embodied the ideals and ambiance of the 60s counter culture. It was really cool when I was a kid.


(9) A Night at the Opera (1935)
Directed:Sam Wood
Starred: The Three Marx brothers, (Groucho, Harpo, Chico)
Margret Dumont, Kitty Carlisle

The finest film by the Marx Brothers the first of only two produced by Irving Thalberg. This one and its' twin A Day at the Races stand head and shoulders above everything the Marx Brothers did, and I am a total fan of the Marx brothers but I say that without hesitation. One of the finest comedies in American cinema, it transcends the category of comedy and features some fine Operatic performances. Thalberg was instrumental in re-making the Marx's with these two films. He proved that less is more by cutting the number of one-liners in half, and giving a new organization and attention to plot to the film, and making the brothers into characters that represented protagonists for a worth cause, all of which flew in the face of Groucho's theory of comedy but he was totally won over by the result. The films include generous portions of opera,
Giuseppe Verdi's Il Trovatore.


(10) Lillie's of the Field (1963)
Directed: Ralph Nelson
Starred: Sidney Poitier, Lilia Skala, Lisa Mann.

This is an innocent little film. No car chases,nothing happens. A guy needs work some nuns hire him to build a chapel. They like him so they find reason to keep him on. He keeps wanting to leave and eventually he does. Beneath this seeming noting of a plot is a fine story. It's not a big psychological drama but does certer around an interesting battle of the wills. At a time when the civil rights movement was brewing, a black man pitting his will as a workman being exploited agaisnt that of the mother Superior needs a workman to give more than she can pay him for. It turns out that the nuns had escaped from communist oppression in Eastern Europe and had endured even more hardship then the black American carpenter had. In the end both the nuns and the carpenter grow to love and respect each other. The beset scene is the last one, where Poitier get's the nuns to singing a gospel song he taught them, and as they get wrapped up in it he just walks out. The Mother superior realizes he's leaving but doesn't try to stop him. He's still singing all the way to his car, then he get's in and leaves. No good bye, no words of parting but it's clear the reverend mother will miss him but is willing to let him go.

(11) The Bell Boy (1960)
Jerry Lewis directs and stars.

Probably Jerry Lewis' finest film. I would have chosen the Errand boy, bit's marked in a couple of scene by crass Hollywood sentimentality. The Bell Boy, on the other hand, is an avaunt guard approach. It consists of random scenes from the career of a bell boy at a hotel with nontraditional transitions and establishing shots. It lacks the sugary sentimentality of the Errand Boy. It's a series of gags. My favorite is one Jerry Lewis comes to stay at the Hotel where Jerry Lewis is the bell Hop. So Jerry as himself, in a parody of his life, surrounded by a huge entourage. Then Jerry is also the bell hop. Jerry the movie stars says to one of the assistants who isthat guy over there? Points to someone, the assistant says "that's' your tax man." He says "who is that guy over there? He points, that's your appointment secretary. "Who sis that guy over there," points to someone. He says "that's' the guy who keeps you informed about who all of us are."

(12) The Birds (1963)

Hitchcock: birds attack everyone. One of my favorites.

(13) Psycho (1960)

Also Hitchcock. It has an elaborate structure but the only scene anyone remembers is the shower scene, enough said.

(14) The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956)
James Stewart, Doris Day

Color re-make of 1936 black and white. Both films by Hitchcock, the remake is much better. It's actually more suspenseful. About a family that blunders into a dipolmatic espionage situation (in North Africa). The son is kidnapped and taken back on England by the spies and the Parents wind up rescuing him from a foreign embassy.

(15) Stage Coach
John Ford
John Wayne

The original of a movie re-made with different stars twice over. The other versions are trivial. This is an important film because it represents the first attempt to make a real film out of a Western. Before this westerns were just cowboys and Indians, the real point was shoot-em-up, chase the bad guys, have fist fights. This film tried to make a real story, a real plot, use film techniques to build suspense, and even though it's black and white, the land scape is beautifully filmed, with big skys of the American southwest and some of the most authentic looking Native Americans in any Hollywood movie.

In the Shoes of the fisheman
Michael Johnson


Wednesday, May 25, 2011

God, Bigfoot, and Trotsky: Signs Along The Way

snap from summer camp? The Patterson film.

I guess one reason for writing this is that I'm tired of atheists making comparisons bewteen God and Bigfoot. That's such an obvious attempt to ridicule believers and control the the boundaries of inquiry let's just really get into it and think about it.

When I was eleven years old (summer of 67) I went to summer camp. It was a church camp on Lake Texoma which is a serpentine lake forming part of the state line between Texas and Oklahoma. It wasn't much of a camp, we mostly swam and sort of made fun of the crafts they wanted us to do, but I didn't do them I just made fun of them. They have one mainstay of great summer camp fun, hoaxes. The thing about the good counselor inspired hoax is the pay off. If you don't go "ha ha I got you, you should have seen your face," the whole thing is for nothing. That's why I think the incident I'm about to describe really happened, that is that it was not a hoax. I think of it as "my Bigfoot sighting." Now before I talk about it, do I really believe in Bigfoot? I don't know, what day is it? I vacilate on the subject but I'm open to the possibility. I do have some big doubts but I have little patience for the kind of idiot who just dismisses the whole subject merely becuase it's associated with silliness. It is associated with a lot of stupid things but those who actually try to investigate the phenomenon as though it pertained to an actual naturalistic animal do not include the silliness in their figuring. It's all a matter of propriety and embarrassment not of scinece or fact.

I call it "my sighting" but I didn't see anything. I saw other people see something that I didn't see. I contrast it with the hoax pulled the night before "the incident" that I will describe. The night before that incident the boys dorm was going to bed. Lights appeared on the horizon where was no road. Shills in the dorm began saying they could see little men coming toward the dorm. Everyone was running around. No one really believed it was aliens but we all wanted to go along with the gag just to have fun. One of the "little men" came up to the dorm and entered, it was clearly one of the counselors made up in some stupid get up. Everyone was laughing and a great argument ensued, "we got you, you were scared!" "I was not!" I went to the bathroom as the excitement died down and heard a noise outside in the distance that gave me pause. I didn't know what I heard. I went out to investigate and listened. It was off in the dark woods I barely herd it faintly. I'm still not sure I did hear it, but it seemed like a woman screaming. Some kid came up behind me and was saying "did you hear it?" I didn't know.

The next day we all went for a nature hike. We were lined up in single file and led by the counselors (college age kids). We passed the car battery used in the hoax and someone pointed it out. Then we went into the woods about a hundred yards or a bit more, along a little trail with dense foliage on both sides. In those days Lake Texoma was remote and surrounded by deep woods. There has been a lot of development in the nearly 50 years since. We were stopped by the leaders on the edge of a clearing. One of the older guys who had been up ahead came back and said something to the leader. They had a little counsel while we waited on the trail. They went over a little rise that screened off the clearing from our view. The leader observed came back and said we have to wait. Much discussion ensued and it seemed there was something over there they found odd but they wouldn't say what it was. The main guys said "Dave so and so is coming, he's an Eagle Scout, he grew up in the woods and he'll know what it is." They really would not say what they saw, I demanded that they let me see. I told them I was real experienced in woods. They took me to the edge of clearing. I lied about being experienced. When we camped out in the woods near the farm my Dad grew up on, I was terrified by the cows. Across the clearing all I saw was trees. The guy with me said "it's not there now." But I did notice he had us crouch and sneak to the edge and stay out of sight. The counselors were all having serious whispered discussions and wouldn't fill us in. They seemed very intense and worried.

That might seem hoax-like. We stayed until the "Dave" the local Daniel Boone came. He went over across the clearing to look. When he came back he looked like he had seen a ghost. He said "get the hell back to camp." They told us to go in single file, not to speak or make any noise, and go now!" Once back my brother and I noticed no one would talk about it. When we tired to ask "what was the problem in the woods the other day" they would just say "the camp head as said he doesn't want it discussed." There was no pay off. There was no gotcha. The guys at the time were clearly afraid. We never went back into the woods. The counselors also made some official statement don't go in the woods as there are wild boards (which there are) and so on. Nothing more was said about it. I did notice (but had no idea what it meant at the time) the kid who thought he heard a woman screaming was being made fun of because no one else heard it. He claimed to hear it every night and he went out by the restroom every night to listen.

On our way home we road back with a woman who worked in the camp kitchen and was a friend of my mother. One of the counselors also road in the front. Most of the time those two talked about how he didn't want go to Vietnam. There was a lull and we asked "what was the deal when we tried to go for that walk." He said there was a "creature" and they didn't know what it was. At first they couldn't tell if it was man or animal. It walked on two legs and had a human-looking face. Yet it was covered with dark brown hair all over it's body and had no clothes, it was huge and stunk. He seemed deadly serious. He could have been lying but he didn't seem like the type. He was a pacifist who loved folk music and was caught up in the early anti-Vietnam sentiment and was considering going to jail rather than going to war. He wasn't the joking type. He said they decided it was a hobo. Now it might seem this is all reconstructed and I'm sure some of it is, but I have been in recent contact with a fried who I talked to about it when we got back. He was not at the camp but he clearly remembers me telling him all of the details about "couldn't tell if it was a man or an animal." Of course it's very possible that all of this is influenced by reading about the subject in subsequent years. Those who aer predispossed to poopoo Bigfoot have a perfect out to do so.

Now what do we make of this story? Recently I discussed it with a good friend who is an atheist, but whose views I respect. He was not convinced. His view point I have a lot of trouble buying. Even though I didn't see anything, I'm totally convenience the others did see something. I know they were scared. They looked like they had seen a ghost. The big Daniel Boone guy they relied on was clearly afraid. He wasted no time in saying "get the hell out of here. get the kids back to camp." They were serious. This was before the Patterson film was public, I had never heard of Bigfoot I had no idea what to compare it to. Over the years I pushed it to the back of my mind. When I did see a documentary about Bigfoot for the first time, just a few years latter, I was scared out of my wits. I was totally unreasonably afraid that night and even shaking. The atheist I discussed it with was so willing to accept the obvious propaganda. A naked Hobo? Covered with hair, no cloths out in the woods? Come on we can do better than that. I don't have any real commitment to the idea that it was a Bigfoot. I have huge dobuts about the existence of something that seems to run across the road all the time but shouldn't go anywhere near a road if it really exists. They would have to be saying "hey one of those funny metal things is coming, time to run out there and let them see me again." No one called it a Bigfoot, they didn't know that expression at that time. In fact it was years before I put the two together. When I saw the Bigfoot movie I didn't say to myself, "O that's what that was." I had almost forgotten it. Over the years it began to occur to me here and there as I would hear things about Bigfoot, "gee I wonder..."

Jump forward about twenty years. I'm in Seminary and doing lots of political organizing in the Central America movement. I was introduced by a friend in the movement to his "SWP (socialist worker's party) comrades." Actually I can't remember if they were SWP but they had been. I think the SWP had left Texas. At any rate these guys were amazing. They talked nothing but Trotsky. It was cleary they didn't give a rat's you know what about Nicaragua but they knew it was an opportunity to organize. They had less than 1% of the population of Texas, probalby less than 1/34, it was only about 3 of them in all the Metro-plex. Yet they spoke like they were deciding the fate of the world. Every election year they would work their bums off trying to collect signatures to be on the ballot and never came anywhere near close enough. Yet they spoke like they were just around the corner from lining up all the Stalinist rivals and Capitalists stooges and having them sent to West Texas (Texas Siberia?). When they learned I was in Semineary they said that I was a victim of the great delusion of the age. The great sickness of the age of cousre was belief in God. God is the great evil that has beset the society with delusion and the cure is to learn the word of Uncle Leon (Totsky) who is going to make us free. Free to serve the state that is. I'm the one who was delusional!

The thing that fascinates me is they way everything they said so closely mirrors the way intenet atheists talk about religion. They could have come right out of the Dawkins hand book. They had all the argument from default assumption, to the idea that religion is "a delusion." They way they traded in ideolgoical banter so closely resembles message board atheism, a decade before message board existed except for a hand full of people in silicon valley, I can't help but think that really is the model that the early Secular web used. I have noticed the totalitarian nature of atheist language. The Orwellian nature of it.

Here's the latest example of the Orwellian tendencies. They Dawkies use the term "cult" in relation to all religious belief and groups. Of course they have no knowledge of the true sociological meaning of the term. They think all cults are imposing their will upon brain washed lackies whose live they take over and ruin. An example is the posting by a CARM Dawkie named "Toast"

The title of the thread:" a few questions about cults" so he's just equating religion with cults.

If no one ever told you about your god you would still believe?

if so, would your belief mirror the one you have been indoctrinated into?

if you still would believe even if know one told you these things to
believe would you not just be making things up?

He's trying to say that because you can't come to the same conclusions you do as a Christian on your own with no Bible and no church to guide you then it must be a cult because it's others imposing their will.

another post by Toast:

sorry but everything...a religion is a cult

This is also the same tendency. Everything the other guys value we disvalue so every term they use we must re-think impose our own terms. We can't allow them to name their own things, such as "chruch" we must name them and stick them whit the connotations of our own interpretation. So thus Churches become cults. The irony meter is gong to blaring in a moment.

The really alarming tendency is the almost blatant admission that ideas which don't stack up the atheist ideology are "dangerous" and must be controlled. This statement was made on CARM sept 21 2009 by "Mountaineer Elf.

Because some ideas can be dangerous. Not all ideas deserve to be heard if they are dangerous.

Trying to usurp science and reality to stick in your deity is dangerous.

The context he's speaking of is an argument for the existence of God. The idea that a new concept or some concept that he doesn't agree with is "usurping scinece" is quite alarming. What's worse is he's not content for scinece to stay in its own domain it must conquer all and control all reality. Science when is arguemnts for God usurping scinece? That can only be the case if he thinks that science proper domain is dictating to use that we can't believe in God. It's even worse that equates science with reality. His view is so totalizing that it must control all, there can be nothing in existence that is not controlled by his view point.
Like those SWP guys they are telling me my view of the world is delusional and that I seek to control realty, but it's clearly who seek to control because they are admiate about demanding that whatever is of their opposiion is clearly "a cult" and "delusion" reality has to be shaped around their view. In deciding that the enemy seeks to control reality they seek to control it even more because they have to do prevent the enemy from doing it.

This is a good example of phenomenology vs reductionism. Phenomenology is like me saying "I don't know those guys saw. I'm not going to say what it is and I'm going to rule out options just because they are unpopular (Of course religion is not unpopular)." The fringe group who make up 3% of the popular tries to control everyone else by excluding what they don't like and privileging their position. Then of cousre it's all going to come down to someone else who wasn't there trying to tell me what I really experienced. They will say they guys weren't really so scared, it really wasn't a big deal. There was no sound of screaming. I made all that up over time as I read Bigfoot lore.

The problem is Bigfoot is a tangible thing. Even if there are no such creatures the concept of it (even if fictional) is that of a tangible thing. It could be discovered or dismissed eventually. In we could rule it out given enough time and enough looking. If search every place on earth we could see there can't be one, or we find it. God can never be found in that way. We could never search enough of the universe to rule out God even if we covered every square parsec of the universe. That's a problem for the skeptic because they usually tend to be people who don't like blurry lines. They want clear crisp understanding of reality and if anything is confusing they seek to reduce it away and lose it in it in the shuffle. We can see the forces of control vying for explanatory power. In the political struggle between capitalism and communism both sides sought to control reality. The Capitalists deny that there is any stimulating effect on the economy form public employment. The Chicago school of economics teaches that there is no multiplier effect while Harvard does studies showing that there is. In the election of 2008 a local economist firm the same school that I did my doctoral work at was on local media saying there are no studies at all to back up Obama's stimulus ideas. I started an email exchange with him. He insisted upon sending me all kinds of article asserting that there is no multiplier effect. When I emailed him four studies I found on the net showing the multiplier effect from public employment he stopped talking to me.

The Skeptic wants to fall back on controlling reality by reducing it to what we know. Since God transcends the empirical that let's him out for all practical purposes he might as well not exist. Then to make sure they control the situation some of them mock and ridicule anyone who thinks he has reason to believe in spite of the strictures of atheist propaganda. On the other hand, the organized believer tends to be just as controlling in terms of doctrine. Everyone wants to boil down reality to just what their world view can handle, that's pretty much what Thomas Kuhn says we do. The phenomenological approach would be to allow the pehomena to suggest the categories into which we file information, rather than imposing our pre set categories. To me the guy in the car on the way home filed it all away in the pre set categories; he gave the official version people were asked to give if there was a question by parents or kids, 'what was it?' A hobo! Then we forget about the screaming in the woods, the fact that it far bigger than any human, totally covered with hair. This is reductionism losing the phenomena.

Even though God is not amenable to empirical observation as is Bigfoot, and thus can't be ruled out whereas Bigfoot can be ruled out, God is undeniable reality if one knows what to look for. The fact that people deny undeniable reality is a funciton of the human ability to set up the inquiry in a way that rationalizes the outcome in harmony with our world view, or ideology. It can also be a function of the way people understand reality, the way we define our terms. The undeniable nature of God, or what I call "undeniable" depends largely upon my understanding of God. This is why I say belief in God is really about understanding our place in being. The question of God can't be based upon scientific knowledge. Thus there have to be other forms of knowledge because those other forms of are known and the attempt to reduce all forms of knowledge ot just those that can be controlled, and those that screen out belief and allow only what e already know are the propagandistic end of ideology. That includes the atheist fortress of facts idea. We have this huge pile of facts that supports our view , it's all facts and proven things and God is not anywhere in it and we don't believe that's not in our pile of facts, so therefore, we have this huge mound of truth and God is totally not part of it. The problem is eventualy the mound of truth will decay because with that attitude you can't do new research. How can you investigate the unknown when you insist that you can only believe that is known?

The difference in saying God is undeniable and adding "if you know what to look for" and closing down inquiry is the difference betewen allowing the sense data to guide the search and impossing the answers before hand. Saying "If you know wht to look for, it's a matter of how we define it" means these are phenomena that we both agree too, but it's a question of interpretation.

I don't know what those guys saw in the woods. It might have been a hobo I'm not going to be dogmatic about it, but that's the point.

In closing here's a picture I took at camp that year, this is the head counselor.


There are modern Bigfoot sightings at Lake Texoma I am a bit more skeptical of them then I am of the possibility of a Bigfoot in 1967 because it's so built up around there now. there is an animal preserve but it's small.

Monday, May 23, 2011

So we are all still here hu?


I notice the world didn't end over the weekend. I had a plan but had it too late to carry it out. I was going to secretly contact all the Christians posting on CARM atheist and have them not post or show any presence on the net for several days after so that the atheists would begin to wonder "have they been raptured?" I didn't think of it until Saturday. So much for my whimsical contribution to the mockery of a bad idea. You can still read the warning on

I expect the guy who started all that, especially the guy who gave his savings to buy the posters, I expect them to become more committed to the idea than ever. This is a classic case of cognative dissonance, a major theory in psychology started by Leon Festinger.


Cognitive dissonance is an uncomfortable feeling caused by holding conflicting ideas simultaneously. The theory of cognitive dissonance proposes that people have a motivational drive to reduce dissonance. They do this by changing their attitudes, beliefs, and actions.[2] Dissonance is also reduced by justifying, blaming, and denying. It is one of the most influential and extensively studied theories in social psychology. A closely related term, cognitive disequilibrium, was coined by Jean Piaget to refer to the experience of a discrepancy between something new and something already known or believed.

Experience can clash with expectations, as, for example, with buyer's remorse following the purchase of an expensive item. In a state of dissonance, people may feel surprise,[2] dread, guilt, anger, or embarrassment. People are biased to think of their choices as correct, despite any contrary evidence. This bias gives dissonance theory its predictive power, shedding light on otherwise puzzling irrational and destructive behavior.

Notice the guy who started the idea also predicted it in 94. Being wrong once didn't prevent him from trying again, he was probably more attached to the idea. This is exactly what happened int the original case where Festinger developed the theory.

Festinger's original work was published in a book called When Prophesy Fails. The book was about Festinger, then a graduate student, who infiltrated a flying saucer cult. The cult began when a women in the mid west started receiving automatic writing from spirits who predicted the end of the world. The cult wound up believing that aliens were coming in flying saucers to save them. They were actually watching episodes of the classic tv sci fi show "Captain Video" to get "secret" messages form the aliens. The remarkable thing is several times the date came and went for the end of the world and yet the group became more committed each time, went out and got more members each time. Festinger contaminated his data because he asked so many questions and brought in so many "new members" (other graduate students and professors) that they began to suspect that he was an alien. They started taking opportunities in private to say "come on you can tell me I want tell the others, you are one of them aren't' you?" The cult finally disbanded the major people wound up in Scientology.


Of course very few Christians expected this guy's thing to be real. My feeling was if Jesus says he doesn't know the day or the hour, (only the Father does) what chance does this guy have of knowing it? As most of these things go this guy had some bogus theory about how to calculate secret messages from the Bible. His prmise is wrong on face value because he was calculating from the Flood, judging literal years (no way to know even if the flood was literally real--which it was not) when it happened. So there was no basis upon which to calculate anyway. Then he decided for himself that it could be traced that way, no Bible passage says it can be.

What is the basis for such foolish notions? First there is the kind of instruction in Bible reading that many people get in churches. When I turn past (I do mean past) televangelists almost without fail what I hear is total ignorance when they discuss how to study the Bible and how to read the Bible. They are the one's who set up this foolishness of secret codes and private meanings, becuase they don't know the basic scientific means of exegesis or textual criticism. American Christianity is based upon an revolution of anti-intellectualism led by harbingers of frontier life against the early Calvinist elites who founded the big schools in the east (such as Harvard and Yale). This revolution was called "the second great awakening" and it's legacy has been the sanctioning of uneducated guesswrok in reading the Bible and a profound suspicion and distrust of academic learning.

Although there may be broader ramifications for anti-intellectualism in America:

Anti-Intellectualism in American Life
book by Hofstadter (quoting reader review on Amazon)
Hofstadter is careful to define what he means by the intellect and intellectuals. The intellect is the critical, creative, contemplative side of mind that examines, ponders, wonders, theorizes, criticizes, questions, imagines. It is the province of writers, critics, skeptics, professors, scientists, editors, journalists, lawyers and clergymen. Just being a "mental technician" in these fields is not enough; one also acts as an active custodian of values like reason and justice and truth.

Unfortunately, America's practical culture has never embraced intellectuals. The intellectuals' education and expertise are viewed as a form of power or privilege. Intellectuals are seen as a small arrogant elite who are pretentious, conceited, snobbish. Geniuses' are described as eccentric, and their talents dismissed as mere cleverness. Their cultured view is seen as impractical, and their sophistication as ineffectual. Their emphasis on knowledge and education is viewed as subversive, and it threatens to produce social decadence.

Instead, the anti-intellectuals believe that the plain sense of the common man is altogether adequate and superior to formal knowledge and expertise from schools. The truths of the heart, experience, and old-fashioned principles of religion, character, instinct, and morality are more reliable guides to life than education. After all, we idolize the self-made man in America.
my money is on this reaction of the second great awakening.

This common man stuff and common sense and so on usually means popular misconceptions and prejudices are enshrined as "common sense." When I was a kid the old people said "it's just common sense to keep the races apart." The same goes for the Bible, people want to feel that God is talking directly to them from the pages of the book and they don't some snob with a degree telling them what he says.

The other aspect of the equations, why we have this sense of "end times," in the first place, rooted in theology. Why does time have to "end?" Jurgen Moltmann, a major theologian of the twentieth century, explores this idea in this work Theology of Hope. (summary of book). He shows that the Israelites journey is spacial, through the desert toward the physical goal of a promised land. What happens once they reach it? Now the journey become temporal. They are no longer searching for the land, now it's a journey of time. They journey through history. Thus the bench mark of the end of times becomes the temporal goal. This theory might be in doubt due to modern scholarly notions that the journeying of the Israelites as been historically disproved. Lawrence H. Shiffman, Ethel and Irvin A. Edelman Professor in Hebrew and Judaic Studies at New York University, says this is not a consensus. There is still a large segment of scholars who don't accept this idea.

Shiffman writes:

Further, this theory must explain away the historical and archaeological evidence. Numerous cities from this period show a cultural change at precisely the point when the Israelites are said by the Bible to have appeared. Indeed, the newcomers, since they came from the desert, show a lower level of material culture than the Canaanites whom they displaced. This situation fits well the notion of Israelite conquest and infiltration. Second, the Israelites, throughout their history in the land, were concentrated in those areas easiest to defend against the superior arms of the Canaanites, a fact that supports the notion that they were invaders. Third, the doubters have claimed that few cities from this period show evidence of armed destruction. But careful consideration of the biblical narrative, with due attention to the account in Judges and the evidence that the Canaanites were never entirely displaced, eliminates this inconsistency fully. Indeed, the archaeological record supports a reconstruction of the historical events of the conquest when both Joshua and Judges are studied together. Finally, these scholars often claim that the Bible is the only source supporting the Exodus. But they forget that several different accounts of the Exodus exist in the Bible, in books written at different periods, thus providing corroborative evidence for the basic scheme of events.

Still it seems there would be more to the idea of end times than just enshrining it in Hebrew Hopes. The early chruch got into the act when the gentile churches, not aware of the apocalyptic genre of writing, took literal the symbolism of Revelation. No doubt all of that plays a role. Yet it seems there must be a psychological pay off that people long for. There must be an end to this vial of tears we call "the world." This seems especially acute when we wake of and hear of tragedies like what happened in Joplin last night.

People need a goal they need a pay off, other than death. Yet the wrong prediction that sucks others into false hope is not the way to go. We do not have false hope. We have to cultivate the inner life in a relationship with God to understand the reality of the true hope we do have. We need to be aware of God's reality in our lives so the present nature of eternity is always pressing upon us. We should live a position which is aware of two points at once, the concrete now which is here in life, and the eternal which we will someday join. I probably look too lovingly at the past, but being a historian I can't help but think that knowing the past is a good way to demarcate the present.

(see an actual episode of Captain Video)

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Religouis Belief is Innate

Stone age Venus Figure--evidence of early religoius feeling
A Major New Study claims to demonstrate that religious belief is innate.

CNN Belief Blog

Religious belief is human nature, huge new study claims

By Richard Allen Greene, CNN

London (CNN) – Religion comes naturally, even instinctively, to human beings, a massive new study of cultures all around the world suggests.

"We tend to see purpose in the world," Oxford University professor Roger Trigg said Thursday. "We see agency. We think that something is there even if you can't see it. ... All this tends to build up to a religious way of thinking."

Trigg is co-director of the three-year Oxford-based project, which incorporated more than 40 different studies by dozens of researchers looking at countries from China to Poland and the United States to Micronesia.

Studies around the world came up with similar findings, including widespread belief in some kind of afterlife and an instinctive tendency to suggest that natural phenomena happen for a purpose.

"Children in particular found it very easy to think in religious ways," such as believing in God's omniscience, said Trigg. But adults also jumped first for explanations that implied an unseen agent at work in the world, the study found.

The study doesn't say anything about whether God

, gods or an afterlife exist, said Justin Barrett, the project's other co-director.

"This project does not set out to prove God or gods exist. Just because we find it easier to think in a particular way does not mean that it is true in fact," he said.

Both atheists and religious people could use the study to argue their sides, Trigg told CNN.

New American:

Written by Raven Clabough
Friday, 13 May 2011 12:00
According to a poll conducted by Oxford University, faith and religion are an innate trait for human beings. Entitled the “Cognition, Religion, and Theology Project,” the initiative took three years to complete and includes over 40 different studies in 20 countries around the world.

The study began in 2008, when the Associated Press reported:

University of Oxford researches will spend nearly $4 million to study why mankind embraces God. The grant to the Ian Ramsey Center for Science and Religion will bring anthropologists, theologians, philosophers, and other academics together for three years to study whether belief in a divine being is a basic part of mankind’s makeup.

New American responds:

Evidently, it is. Human beings have a natural tendency to believe in God and an afterlife. CNN writes of the results, “Studies around the world came up with similar findings, including widespread belief in some kind of afterlife and an instinctive tendency to suggest that natural phenomena happen for a purpose.”

The overall study is being done by the Ian Ramsey Center for Science and Religion, associated with Oxford University. the center studies religious conceptions in relation to the sciences. They study the application of scinece to the study of religion.

Ramsey Center for
Science and Religion

One of the key current research projects is the ‘Cognition, Religion, and Theology’ project, held conjointly with the Centre for Anthropology and Mind (CAM). This is a 3-year, £1.9m grant, and involves six researchers shared between the IRC and CAM. In broad terms this research examines how the structures of the human mind inform, shape and constrain religious expression. Examples of work in this field include the study of what is attributed to God by young children and the uncovering of commonly held cognitive structures across different cultural groups.
According to the CNN source sited above atheist advocates like Dawkins (who the article mere calls "secularist") the universality of religoius belief is proof that religion is the result of accidents of evolutionary development. While the research assume religious people will argue that God would give us the desire to seek him.

It seems that the innate nature of religion throws a wrench in the works of atheist propaganda in a much more fundamental way. Atheists make a lot of mileage off of the idea of default assumption. On message boards one often sees them argue "we are all born atheists." They try to claim various privileges for their position based upon this assertion. If religious belief is innate than that idea goes out the window.

Yahoo answers

Delusions have to be instilled. The default assumption with no cultural indoctrination or peer pressure would be reality: atheism. Or, to phrase it more as you did, neither a "belief that X" nor a "lack of belief that X," but simply the absence of fantastical notions of deities.
Professional Know it all Austin Cline:

Atheism is the Default Position; Theism Must Be Indoctrinated.Do infants and very young children qualify as atheists? Most atheists will say so, working from the definition of atheism as “lacking belief in gods.”

This position assumes religion is taught. It assumes religion is purely cultural but the studies show otherwise. I have argued for years that it's innate based upon the God part of the brain. One of my major God arguments is based upon the notion of innate religious beliefs.

The argument actually says that the fact of a religious speicies is far too coincidental to be merely the product of random chance. Why why would it be that we are fit to be reigious, that it is our isitinct and our way of life? That would indicate that an object of religious devotion desinged religocity into humans. In summation the following factors indicate that religiocity is part of human nature:

a) Historical Tendency:

The vast Majority of Humans have been religious as far back as we have evidence of humanity (50,000 years) [see above A. 3]

b) Believers have always been vast numerical majority

That is not appeal to popularity, it's an argument about behavior which indicates an innate condition. Almost 90% currently of world population are rleigious believers in some sense.

c) Trans cultural

When anthropologists see a behavior that transcends culture they assume it is innate. There has never been a culture tha was atheistic. Every culture we have ever seen or found traces of on earth going back as far as we can has been religious in some way.

d) Even in cultures such as China where the government attempted irradication of religious belief there are still 51% religious and many more undecided but not "anti-"religious

e) Physical fitness for religion

Our bodies work better when we are religious, it is the major factor in health and far more of a motivater than any other trigger of the Placibo effect [see above C.3]

f) Archetypes Universal

Archetypes are natural part of the human psyche (see the next argument). Also see Jesus Christ and Mythology page II. Archetypes are psychological symbols which point to transcendent ideal beyond the material realm. Studies show that they are natural to all people and emerge under a broad variety of psychological techniques. Maslow says that they are found among all people using ever technique of psychoanalysis. [above B.3]

g) Psychologically fit for religion

Psychological factors, relgious believers have far less depression and incidence of mental illness so the human mind works best when religious. [above C]

h) Transformative power

IF the appeal of the argument were merely popularity, it would not turn on things other than popularity. Obviously these reasons I'm giving here are not popularity. But, the transformative power of religious experience is another aspect of the argument which proves that it' not merely an appeal to popularity. Religious experience transforms lives, it gives people life affirming experiences which makes them better as people and makes life worth living. Not all psychological factors are capable of doing that. We are so constituted as a species that we respond to these experiences in such a way that they do transform our lives. That proves that we are fit to be religious, and that is not an appeal to popularity.[see also point C above on psychological normality and self actualization]

i) brain wave patterns

Brain wave patterns are changed by religious experience. We go from Alpha waves to Beta and to other levels of Brain wave patterns when we have these experinces.

j) "God pod" (God moduel in the brain)

Scientists have identified a cluster of neurons in the brain which, when stimulated, produce feelings of extacy and thoughts about God and the transcendent. This is too great a coincidence that nature would just produce this by random chance, especially when taken together with all the other ways in which we are fit to be religious. It's an evidence of design, we are made to be a religious species.

k) Sense of the Numenous universal

The Argument

[see above point B]

V. Religious Belief is Normative for Human Nature

Note: Normative does not mean "normal" it means to set the standard. The distinction being that it is not a mere insult that the unbeliever is abnormal, but it is a statement that religious belief is the standard given human nature and it does not have to be justified. We are fit to be religious. Our basic nature as humans is "designed" to cause us to seek God. We are made to be religious belief requires no further justification.

This argument is going to be misinterpreted.The atheists always try to say that this argument is an appeal to popularity. They always mistake it for saying that religion is popular, therefore, it is true. This is not what is being said at all.It is an argument about historical tendencies illustrating human nature, please pay careful attention to how it is argued. More on this objection at the bottom.

A. Religious Belief is a Trans cultural Experience

There has never been a culture that was not religious. To say this another way, never at any time in human history has any culture ever been atheistic. All cultures have always been religious. As far back as Neanderthal, we find artifacts which imply religious concepts and thoughts of after life.

1) Atheists Theories of Religious Origin outmoded

Since Religious belief Transcends culture it is not a mere product of culture.If religion was merely cultural, it would probably be the case that some culture at some point would have been atheistic, but none ever has been. The favorite Atheistic expatiation for the origin of religion is the outmoded structural functionalist appraoch form the 19th century. This Notion argues that if something exists in social structure it is because it serves a function toward the promotion of the stricture. But this is a theory designed to rule out religion to begin with. It is based upon the assumption of reductionism, that everything can be reduced to mere social function. Many atheists on the internet often through in the idea that religion was "invented" for the purpose of keeping social order. But this is empirically not ture.

2) Religious Belief Does not Serve as Explanation

Are Religious Beliefs Explanations?
Norman Lillegard


"...Scientific explanations get started generally with hypotheses (at least on a Popperian account) which are then put to various tests in attempts to get independent evidence for the explicans. Now there surely is something quite odd in the suggestion that such a religious belief as that God created the universe, or guides its development, is in any way a hypothesis. This belief is normally aquired in "dogmatic" contexts, it is not held in a tentative fashion, and its function in a believer's life is, arguably, quite distinct from the function of hypotheses, and thus of explanations, in the lives of scientists. Does this show that religion and science simply bypass one another? Perhaps. It will no doubt be argued that even if religious beliefs are not hypotheses they still have a definite cognitive content, are true or false, and thus are capable of contradicting scientific claims. To deny this would seem to be tantamount to endorsing some kind of emotivism with respect to religious belief, and in fact suspicions of emotivism have undoubtedly contributed to what I think are premature dismissal of Wittgensteinian approaches in the philosophy of religion. ... I will argue that the dynamics of belief change in the sciences and in religion are distinct in ways that support the idea that religious beliefs do not generally function as hypotheses or indeed function as explanations at all."

The innate nature of belief doesn't prove God is real. Its' a rational warrant for belief. It certainly disrupts the various uses to which atheists put their disproved "deafult" assumption. Another problem is that some atheists think it's disproof that Christianity only goes back so far and there are many other faiths and they go back much further. That's not an argument against the innate nature of religious instinct.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Pual Tillich's Ontology: Deep Structures

Deep structures
This is actually meant to be a followup to last post on misconceptions of metaphysics. This is an example of the right use of metaphysics.
That being has depth is a clue to the meaning of “the ground of being,” or “being itself.” The depth of being is also related to the notion of the “power of being.” These are all saying the same thing or very closely related things. To really understand what Tillich is saying we have to understand what the depth of being is and relate that to the power of being. The context of the phrase “depth of being” and the quotation above about that comes form Tillich’s sermon, converted into a small book, The Shaking of the Foundations (op cit). In the chapter entitled “the depth of existence,” Tillich tells us that he is using the term “depth” as a metaphor to indicate an attitude taken form spiritual experience. Depth symbolizes both special relation and spiritual quality. Deep implies a profundity (the opposite being “shallow”) and there is also a sense in which “deep” is used for suffering (the depths of despair for example). [i] I said above that being having depth means things are not merely as they appear on the surface, there’s more to reality than just the way things appear. In the Shaking of the Foundations Tillich confirms that this is what he had in mind:
All visible things have a surface. Surface is that side of things which first appears to us. If we look at it, we know what things seem to be. Yet if we act according to what things and persons seem to be, we are disappointed. Our expectations are frustrated. And so we try to penetrate below the surfaces in order to learn what things really are. Why have men always asked for truth? Is it because they have been disappointed with the surfaces, and have known that the truth which does not disappoint dwells below the surfaces in the depth? And therefore, men have dug through one level after another. What seemed true one day was experienced as superficial the next. When we encounter a person, we receive an impression. But often if we act accordingly we are disappointed by his actual behavior. We pierce a deeper level of his character, and for some time experience less disappointment. But soon he may do something which is contrary to all our expectations; and we realize that what we know about him is still superficial. Again we dig more deeply into his true being.[ii]
Immediately before the statement about the depth of our being that I quoted above (en1) he says that depth psychology can help us understand our own depths but it can’t help us to find the depth and ground of our being. Immediately after that statement he links the depth of our souls to the social world, we can know our own souls through the mirror of community and others.[iii] This ties us to the heteronomy and the question of the role of spirit in the creation of culture that was important to Tillich. He then makes another statement that is remarkably like the one above but this time focusing upon the social world:
The name of this infinite and inexhaustible ground of history is God. That is what the word means, and it is that to which the words Kingdom of God and Divine Providence point. And if these words do not have much meaning for you, translate them, and speak of the depth of history, of the ground and aim of our social life, and of what you take seriously without reservation in your moral and political activities. Perhaps you should call this depth hope, simply hope. for if you find hope in the ground of history, you are united with the great prophets who were able to look into the depth of their times, who tried to escape it, because they could not stand the horror of their visions, and who yet had the strength to look to an even deeper level and there to discover hope. Their hope did not make them feel ashamed. And no hope shall make us ashamed, if we do not find it on the surface where fools cultivate vain expectations, but rather if we find it in the depth where those with trembling and contrite hearts receive the strength of a hope which is truth.[iv]
In this context he talks about Marxist analysis and social sciences and understanding of social situations with greater depth than one can gain from a mere surface perspective. He also grounds that perspective in first hand experience of social situations rather than just social sciences alone. Most modern thinkers would have a hard time seeing what has to do with God or how God could be the ground of history. But he connects God as the ground of history to the kingdom of God and providence (see quote above). It seems what he means by “being has depth” is a structure that permeates all that is. The depth of being is the unseen structure, the ontology of reality and its extension into social world through God’s providence. Thus he appears to actually be saying that God is the ground and end of the natural world and all that this entails. We can identify “depth” with ontology.
That being itself indicates the power of being is metaphorical, at the same time it is part of the concept of the depth of being. Being is not merely the fact of existence but it also contains the basis upon which all being is. That would correlate to God as creator. In MacQuarrie’s terms, “being let’s be.”[v] This may imply a more passive role than Tillich had in mind. He views God’s creative role from the standpoint of a check on nothingness, but what both are really talking about is an active force of creative power that brings more being out of being itself. Being let’s be is such a passive way to register the idea of “resisting” nothingness, but at the same time both are means of avoiding the direct statement, “God is the creator of all that is.” Nevertheless that’s obviously what they are saying, or trying not to say. Obviously, then Being is necessary and “the beings” (in McQuarrie speak) are contingencies. Being itself is necessary being, the beings are contingent being. This is another aspect of the depth of being. It’s not just so simple that all we need to do is to rattle off a list of concrete things we can observe in the world. There are two levels, necessity and contingency, or two modes of being. Within each role there are different roles. On the level of necessity being is eternal, on the level of contingency being is temporal. Tillich makes much of this distinction. The difference in the two and the sense of the numinous it evokes are very important for Tillich and will figure prominently in the arguments that can be made in terms of reasons to believe.
The reason Tillich takes such a backwards way of expressing God’s creative force is to emphasize the distinction between being and nothingness. This is the primary first and original distinction in reality, the bottom line so to speak between something and nothing. The first distinction in existence is that between being and nothingness. The power of being to resist nothingness (God’s creative force) is the first basis upon which anything is at all. That means we can look at this creative force as the nature of being the basic bottom line of what it means to be and what being is. Thus if we choose for some reason to call this force “God” if we want to use that term, which Tillich says in the quotation above is the meaning of that term, we can say that God is “being itself.” God is this basic force that is the first indentation in all of reality. It is both first temporally (it would be the basis of time) it would be “fist” ontologically. Tillch is thinking in a way that modern scientifically ensorcelled people are not really able to think, and have never thought. McQuarrie puts it into a passive sense “let’s be,” for a different reason. He warns of Heidegger’s tendency to “stretch language” or the awareness of Heidegger (and himself) that to speak of being at an ontological level is a stretch beyond the confines of fact based conceptualism. For him being’s role is the fomentation of more being, or “the beings” is expressed in a passive sense to remove the emphasis upon the activity of a creative agent.
Tillich’s ontology as illustration of depth in being
Another aspect of the depth of being is the diversity of being. Tillich develops many themes of meaning, diversity, and historicity in laying out the Gospel framework and translating it into his phenomenological take on the diversity of being. Human being, fallen nature, sin, redemption, new being in Christ, these are standard Christian themes but a good deal of his Systematic Theology is devoted to exploring them from the perspective of their relationship to being. What he’s doing there is demonstrating the depth of being ontologically and in terms of human experience (vol II of Systematic Theology). Volume I of that work is about “Being and God.” Here he deals with topics of “The Question of Being: Man, Self and World.” “God is the answer to the question implied in being” he says. [vi] He first deals with reason and revelation. Then he moves into the question of being and its meaning. He says that in coming to terms with reason and its take on existential conflicts, one is forced into asking the most essential question of all, why is there something rather than nothing at all? But I have given this in Heidegger’s terms. Tillich puts it a bit differently “why is there something, why not nothing?”[vii] He points out that to ask “why is there not nothing?” is to attribute a kind of being to nothingness. Thus as he puts it “one cannot go behind being.” What he’s saying is, like trying to imagine one’s own non existence, it can’t be done. We cannot get under being itself, its’ the furthest we can go back in our understanding, and it eludes our understanding. Thought is based upon being and it can’t go beyond its base. One can imagine the negotiation of things, however, and it can “describe the nature and structure of everything that is the power of resisting non being.”[viii] Ontological questions, he points out, are not tautologies because of this ability to mentally play with being and non being. We are not merely saying “being is being” when we try to define what it is, because there’s a possibility of negating any particular form of being. The possibility of universality and less than universal aspect of forms of being make ontology possible. There are concepts which are less universal than being but more universal than any concept about being, thus these are “categories” of thought.
These categories form the basis of theological significance. These are central concepts that make theology “go,” so to speak (not Tillich’s phrase). These are ontological concepts, ontology is not theology. One can be an atheist and totally secular and do ontology as part of philosophy, and such a thinker would have to deal with these concepts. But in like manner all theologians must deal with them as well. While they are not theology per se they are essential to theology. The concepts are: (1) the structure implicit in the basic ontological question (why is there something rather than nothing?); (2) the elements which constitute ontological structure; (3) characteristics of being which are the conditions of existence; (4) categories of being and knowing. [ix] The structure (1) is that the question presupposes an asking subject, and an object being asked about. This is the subject/object structure that is presupposed and that in turn assumes the structure of world and self; this as the basic articulation of being. That the self has a world to which it belongs and from which it will deduce the nature of its being precedes all other structures and will be the basic analysis which precedes all other analysis. [x] The elements of the ontological structure he groups into three sets of pairs: individuality and universality, dynamics and form, and freedom and density. These are polarities and the first expresses self referential nature of being.
The ontological concepts pertaining to number (3) (characteristics of being) “expresses the power of being to exist,” in Tillich’s own words, “and the difference between essential and existential being.” [xi] There is a duality for Tillich between essential and existential thinking. One is inherent in the other, as existentialism is meaningless without an essentialism to play off it. No ontology can disregard these two aspects. [xii] Existentialism is a revolt against the predominance of essentialism. Essentialism came to be identified in theology with “stasis” and existents with movement, or process theology. Tillich saw a unity between the two, one assuming the other. Tillich says essentialism is related to universalism, and we can’t deal with concepts in the world without universals. Thus existentialism has to assume essentialism and the two have to work together.[xiii] The fourth level deals with the categories of thought or the basic concepts. These he calls “structures of finite being and thinking.” I suppose the Kantian categories would be placed here. “If time and space are called ‘categories’ this is a derivation from the Kantian terminology which calls time and space forms of intuition. But the larger sense of category has been accepted generally, even in post Kantian schools.”[xiv] Tillich says that determining the exact nature and number of these categories is the on going and never ending task of philosophy. [xv] He isolates four such categories: time, space, causality, and substance. These are categories that have the most theological importance. Quantity and Quality he says have less theological importance. He discusses other categories and their relation to the four points above, but I will forgo that as it really doesn’t have a direct bearing on the task before us here. He does focus on finitude at this point (p165) as having a major bearing on the ontological question of God.
He’s going to argue that ontological concepts are a priori. What he means by a priori is not quite the same as most logicians understand it. We think of a prori as a tautological statement, a statement where we only need to know the meaning of the terms in order to understand the truth of the statement. Tillich makes it sound like the thinks a prori means empirical data. He says it’s ultimately a matter of experience. I don’t think he’s confusing it with empirical data. He is saying that the ultimate understanding of what terms mean is a matter of experience. In other words we think of a prori as statements like “all husbands are married men.” If we know what a husband is we know all of them are married men. Tillich is saying that the idea of husbands and marriage is not some eternal truth in a vacuum. We only have a concept of those terms because we live in a culture that has a convention of marriage. Thus in an ultimate sense the a priori concepts originate form the experience of a life world in which cultural constructs have a shared meaning. The concepts of Being, the categories, are a priori but in the same way rooted in our experience of being. As Tillich says “they constitute the very structure of experience itself.”[xvi] IF experience changes a new a priori will from. Tillich discusses process theology and the question of a static understanding of God. He identifies with a tradition from Scotus to Heidegger, picking up Bergson along the way, and moving toward indeterminacy in the ground of being. But it dose not remove a prori structure from ontology or Being.[xvii]
Still setting up the discussion of finitude and being, he moves to the prelude to that discussion, the self-world relationship. Every being participates in the structure of being, but man alone (in so far as we know) is aware of it. We are the only being we know that has alienation and estrangement. We can describe behavior but we do not know what the behavior means to others. We are the only being we know of that asks the ontological question (why is there something rather than nothing?) and the only one that can try to answer it. In Heideggerian terms, as Tillich puts it, we are only able to answer because we understand the nature of “being there.” Or Tillich speak, we experience “directly and immediately the structure of being and its elements. As stated above the ontological structure is the structure of the ontological question, the assumption and self and world, and that’s what we are moving to as a prelude of discussion of finitude. Then there is also no 2 from above the structure of being grouped into three sets of pairs: individuality and universality, dynamics and form, and freedom and density. These are polarities and the first expresses self referential nature of being. These are a prori concepts. Self and world is a basic part of this structure. Humanity is not merely a passive object of study, but a living consciousness in the process of learning and apprehending these structures first hand. Humanity cannot be turned into an object of study under the guise of making understanding easier. We are the student as well as the object, so to reduce humanity itself to an object is lose the phenomena of what it means to experience being the object or being thing studied. We can’t step outside of that experience and study it as an object dispassionately without changing our understanding of what that thing is we would study.[xviii] This leads into what Tillich discusses in The Courage To Be where speaks of the courage to be a part of and the courage to be apart from.[xix]
As the ontological question implies humanity understands itself as having selves that live in a world. This is the organically a priori set up of asking the question. The relationship between self and world is dialectical, we must be a part of, and we must be apart from. To study, to understand to live, to know, to remain true to what we understand we must go play this game of tag, now standing alone as apart from the world, now standing with the world as part of it. There is no question of the existence of the self, according to Tillich. The Postmodernists made a big deal out of the idea there is no core self. That is a somewhat different question, however, depending upon what is meant by “core,” but there is clearly some form of self since someone had to write those articles, and since even making the argument “there is no self” would require that one be a self and understand something about the concept. According to Tillich the question is self awareness of self relatedness.[xx] This is a dialectical relationship in another way as well, in that the relationship of self and world is part of the larger dialectic of being and nothingness, because it is part of the depth of being and part of the basic categories that emerge from ontological structure. So the importance of this is going to be that in the discussion of finitude the apprehension of our own finitude and what we make of that vis a vi Being itself and it meaning in terms of the object of ultimate concern is hinged upon self understanding, and understanding of self in relation to the world as a crucial aspect of the depth of being; thus this will figure into understanding being itself as indicative of the object of ultimate concern. As shall be seen the object of ultimate concern is indicative of the divine aspect of Being itself, or “holy being.”
The self world polarity is the basis of the subject/object structure of reason, according to Tillich. [xxi] The world is seen as a structured whole, as such it is called “objective” because the many self-world relationships in being all relate more or less the same basic idea of a world. The self is a structure of “centeredness” in terms of awareness, for this reason it is termed “subjective.” In other words subjective refers to the center of awareness which takes in the sense data and relates itself to that which is beyond itself, the world. Objective refers to the single “outside” nature of that which is shared in this awareness by the many selves. Reason is actually makes these, that is it makes the self a “self” and the world a “world.” This is because it is through our constructs of reason that we attach meaning to these terms and understand them in relation to each other, which is a function of their structured relationship. Without the structuring aspect of reason being would be chaos. “Where there is reason there is a self and a world in interdependence.”[xxii] In cognitive terms anything toward which the cognition is directed is considered an object, be it God, or individual items in nature, attitudes, or ideas. We cannot resist making God an object for this very reason. If we think about the concept of God we make God an object. This holds a danger, however, in that we tend to objectify that which we hold in this act of cognition. “If God is brought into the subject-object structure of being he ceases to be the ground of being and becomes one being among others (first of all a being beside the subject who looks at him as an object). He ceases to be the God who is really God. “[xxiii] Various theologies try to escape this problem in various ways. The prophetic tradition insists that we cannot see God; sight is the most objectifying aspect of cognition. Knowledge of God is reveled and understood through man, thus even when God becomes the object God remains the subject (this is just how Tillich puts it).[xxiv] Mysticism attempts to overcome the problem by ecstatic union. In whatever way the resolution is achieved it must be to acknowledge that no language of God can make God an object. Thus language about God must be either negative, or analogical.
There is another sense in which something is made into an object, according to Tillich, that is in robbing it of all of its subjective elements. That is, to turn something into a “thing.” We resist calling human beings “things” because our subjective qualities lead us to disvalue mere things as inhuman, and to value humanity because of its subjective elements. [xxv] One of Tillich’s major concerns is that God not be treated as a “thing.” For those who believe that Tillich is reducing God to the level of an impersonal force or mere abstraction this is another rebuff. But atheists reduce God to the level of a thing, and turn God into another thing in creation alongside all the many things we see in the world. This has nothing to do with personality but it does mean God can’t be conceived as just an impersonal force or a mere abstraction without defeating Tillich’s purpose. He does not include this argument, but it seems rather clear from what he says. The reductionistic atheist reduces all things to the level of “a thing” devoid of subjective elements. Atheists greatly fear subjectivity. That’s always the bottom line in all of their refutations of God arguments, “that’s subjective.” The reductionist view-point treats all sense data as “information” and information is a collection of things, which can be homogenized and abstracted into “data” and “reduced” to it’s most basic level which of course would lose any subjective elements as it loses the phenomena that makes the aspect that which requires reducing to fit into the atheist world view. The reductionist sees human perceptive powers and thought as side effects of chemicals and brain function that makes thought “mere subjectivity” and that is among the phenomena to be lost in explaining human consciousness. To reduce humanity to “a thing” one must reduce human consciousness to a mere epiphenomenon. Parmenides saw the basic ontological structure as the unity of being and the word (logos) in which it is grasped. Thus from this Tillich draws the observation that subjectivity is not an epiphenomena but a primary phenomena although related in polar opposite to objectivity.[xxvi] One cannot derive subjectivity from objectivity or vice versa. The attempt to do so has meant either the subjugation of humanity to numbers and to machines, or the romantic rebellion and undisclosed abandon which sacrifice reason. Tillich asserts that the basic ontological structure cannot be derived. The relation is one of polarity. “What precedes the duality of self and world, of subject and object,” he asks? His answer is that this is a question in which “reason looks into its own abyss—an abyss in which distinction and derivation disappear, only revelation can answer this question.” [xxvii]

[i] Tillich, Shaking…, chapter 7 quoted from online version, Website, Religion-online, URL: visted feb. 5, 2010.
[ii] Ibid
[iii] Ibid.
[iv] Ibid
[v] find
[vi] Tillich, ST I, 163.
[vii] Ibid.
[viii] Ibid., 163-64
[ix] Ibid, 164
[x] Ibid.
[xi] Ibid.
[xii] Ibid.
[xiii] Tillich, History…, op cit, 541.
[xiv] Tillich, ST 1, 166
[xv] Tillich, ST I, 164.
[xvi] Ibid, 166
[xvii] Ibid, 168
[xviii] Ibid., 169-170.
[xix] Tillich, Courage…, op cit, find
[xx] Tillich ST I 169.
[xxi] Ibid., 171
[xxii] Ibid, 172
[xxiii] Ibid.
[xxiv] Ibid.
[xxv] Tillich, System I, 173
[xxvi] Ibid.
[xxvii] Ibid, 174.