Wednesday, September 21, 2011

The Realization of God's Reality and Meaning in the Universe

The Topic was raised on my message boards, Doxa Forums, about the notion of ultimate meaning in life based upon God. I can understand valuing life and the universe and all of that if there is no God but I can't understand NOT being able to understand how God would make it more meaningful! I think those who argue that there is meaning without God, and that God doesn't make meaning just think of God as "another guy." He's just a big man in the sky with a lot power but he's an asshole and doesn't' know as much as they do and can't figure things out. To hear these sorts of thoughts expressed makes me sick. it makes me want to just wretch my guts. In fact it almost convinces me there's a satan. That could rob such a basic understanding from people. It's sick.
It's like not being able to see the difference in a Michelangelo sculpture and junk pile.

My friend Quantum Troll argued:

But is this the meaning that we experience and express in our lives? I would argue not. Meaning, for people, really comes from within. "What gives your life meaning?" gets a ton of answers, but most of them involve family, friends, what we do at work (esp. doctors and social workers), and God. Meaning is something you perceive subjectively, even if you believe in God.
This is the basis of romantic rebellion of the early 19th century, meaning is an inner truth and one's own unique inner truth is separate form the ultimate origin of the universe. Its strange how such an old idea, connected as it is to a defunct philosophy, still clinging to the postmodern milieu and espoused by a scientific reduction type (as QT is). Reductionism and romanticism are quite opposite of one another. At the risk of making the genetic fallacy it would be safe to say that QT would not normally espouse such an idea and would certainly disprove of the Romantic's basic understanding of knowledge as private and relative and based upon an inner truth derives spontaneously form nature that has nothing to do with scientific fact. Strange that a science guy would still recite his trace of an old bromide left over from a long forgotten movement. But this kind of thinking has worked its way deep into the modern Western psyche.

He acknowledges that if god exists then universe has purpose but still holds out for private meaning that would only be valued by the one discovering it through this inner truth. In my view that's a mistake based upon an illusion. Like the illusion of radiant cold. Cold is an absence of heat, it's not radiated. Air conditioners don't spew out cold they spew cold air, air which has the heat removed.So it is with personal meaning in our lives. Meaning is related to values are the bed of morals. Morality law is written on the heart so your value systems are ultimately put on your hearts by God. Our person meanings are filtered through the values system that is ultimately for the divine.

At this point in the discussion another friend, Tiny Thinker, introduced an idea that I think is quite profound, one I should have tumbled to at his this point:

Within, without. That has nothing to do with God, unless one presumes God is only within or without, here or there. Meaning itself is the puzzle. If God is the foundation of all and the ground of Being, then family, work, etc are all given by God, so they would not really be an alternative. People may derive meaning from their idea of God, but that is just another thing, another creation.

We may experience everything subjectively, yet that doesn't mean we aren't experiencing something that is objective. We pattern our own efforts and creations after that experience of something. What are imitating? For example, we may call some of our imitations of cause and effect in the empirical realm "laws and principles" and imagine they exist independently as "aspects of nature", but that only begs the question. It still says there is something "out there" that exists independent of our subjective perception which ultimately doesn't require any reference other than itself.

By "within or without" he means regardless of weather we place meaning within as this Romantic inner truth, or without, as the over purpose handed down from a rational creator, God is more than just another fact of creation, but the basis upon which all reality rests. That means meaning is bound up with God at an intimate level, private meaning is also bound up with God as God is according to Augustine "more near to me than my inmost being." As the basis of reality God is present and manifest in all of reality, even in the beings. That mean even the post priviate meaning that seems to be connected to who we are at the deepest and most intimet level is also connected to God and exists because God is the basis of reality.

This reminds me of my idea of that belief stems from realization and anyone can realize the reality of God believe. This realization transcends logic. It need to proceed from winning a logical argument with a skeptic but is as simple as realizing our own contingency. I didn't realize it at the time I thought of it, although I should have but this is nothing more than idea I've been attached to since seminary; Schleiermacher's feeling of utter dependence.

Frederich Schleiermacher, (1768-1834) in On Religion: Speeches to it's Cultured Dispisers, and The Christian Faith .sets forth the view that religion is not reducible to knowledge 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 stray 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.

The basic assumptions Schleiermacher is making are Platonic. 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. "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 expeirence 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 intuative sense that everyone can grasp of this whole, this unity, being bound up with a higher reality, 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 doesnt' depend on the argument because it proceeds the argument as the pre-given pre-theoretical pre-cognitive realization of what Anselm 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 don't' 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-cognitive 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.

Back in the discussion on the form still another old friend added his idea to the mix, that was Fleetmouse. Fleet ask an interesting question:

If you injured your arm severely and thereby found out that you were a robot with a manufacturer's brand stamped into your hidden parts, would you feel that your life had gained in meaning?
I remember an episode of "Twilight Zone" to that effect. I think the idea is interesting, perhaps he means to argue that it would challenge our standard concepts of person hood, self, and therefore meaning to realize that we are created as creatures of a creator. That would be the old illusion again mistaking meaning and self for freedom from creaturehood, like mistaking cold air for radiant cold. The problem is the images is wrong for several reasons:

(1) Discovering that you are a robot would be like discovering that you are not a part of nature, but a freak that was not produced naturally but created in a laboratory; you are not human you are a machine .like complex form of can opener.

(2) This idea of being a big doll, or a robot, a machine, not part of nature, not created by nature is realted to a view of God that puts god outside of nature not as creator of all that is, but as some sort of great lab technition in the sky.

(3) It puts one at odds from the rest of nature and reality.

This is all contrary to the realization of the feeling of utter dependence. Utter dependence is not the idea of being a big robot of marionette but the contingency, the interlinking web of contingent things that can all be traced back to the one necessary starting point that makes all things to be, God. All of nature is contingent upon God who is the basis of realty, Being a contingency is natural and it is the result of being part of nature because nature itself is contingent upon God.

Meaning is just the outgrowth of realizing the relationship and intimate connection between God and reality. The theory I've espoused many times is the idea that the whole of reality is a thought in the mind of God. At that rate the idea of being a secret robot is small potatoes, but it would not be freakish or natural it would be nature of nature. Belief in God is the realization of our contingency upon a higher necessity that creates all there is because it s the ground of being and being itself.

When I say "God is being itself" what I'm saying is literally to say "what it means to be is to be a creature of God." Surely this realization is the beginning of an understanding of true meaning.


Kristen said...

To discover that one is a robot would mean that you were man-made and formed for human purposes. Your meaning and purpose would be diminished because you would no longer be able to refer to a higher purpose than human purpose, or a higher Maker than a human one.

The point of believing in God as Creator, as it relates to having meaning, is not just the sense of meaning that comes from the idea that God designed us for a purpose. Just any creator, or just any purpose, wouldn't do. Believing in a divine Creator means that our purpose is higher than human purposes: it is divine. Believing that we are in the image of God means the imprint of the divine is in us.

But not believing in a divine Creator means that we have no purpose. We are mere accidents, formed by chance. We may assign meaning to our own lives, but that is a lower form of meaning, because the source of that meaning is a lower source.

Joseph Hinman (Metacrock) said...

that's a good point Kristen and I agree with what you said. I do think the concept of "creator" is over used so that we tend to think of God as constructing each individual like a little toy. Paul feeds into that with the pot and clay analogy but it is just an analogy. There's a good point to it but we should also think of God in broader terms.

it's important to come to terms with the fact that our existences are based upon God's will and his acts. That aspect should not be lost. AT the the same time God created us through the process of creating a universe that evolves. we are products of that universe.

Kristen said...

Metacrock, I am also a theistic evolutionist. But the fact that some Christians have co-opted the term "creation" to mean ONLY young-earth creation or old-earth creation, as those terms are currently defined, doesn't remove my ability to call God my Creator. I simply differ as to the means God used, not to my creation.

Just as "God" doesn't have to mean "big guy in the sky," "Creator" doesn't have to mean, "big guy who literally made a human out of clay 6000 years ago."

So my use of the term does not mean I'm not thinking of God in broader terms. I agree that the term "Creator" has been co-opted by the YEC-ists, but I'm not going to stop using it just because of that. :)

Joseph Hinman (Metacrock) said...

I agree. I was just thinking of the way a lot of people think about that the term.