Sophisticated Theology and Experience of The Divine part 2 the Linford article
Hans Urs Von Balthasar (1905-1988)
A couple of weeks ago I dealt with Ed Brayton  turns to Dan Linford's article in Scientia Salon to reduce all sophisticated views of God to rubish and make the big man in the sky the only meaningful standard of belief. In this essay I will deal exclusivity with Linford's article:
Atheists reject a god that is too small, it is claimed, and most have not considered the more sophisticated God that is really worth believing in. If only atheists considered the proper sort of deity, these authors insist, they would have long abandoned their atheism...This is the position of several authors who have written popular books on the subject over the last two decades: Karen Armstrong , John Haught , and David Bentley Hart , to name a few. I think these authors are incorrect. There are good reasons for rejecting belief even in their gods. Here I will focus on Armstrong’s version, but several of my remarks will be applicable to a number of other theologies.
Armstrong summarized by Linford: "Armstrong claims that her God is beyond any of our conceptions of what a god might be like. God is so far beyond human comprehension, she insists, that when we try to imagine God we instead imagine a false idol. God,” At this point he asserts: "If we do not know what we mean when we speak of God, how can atheists know what they are objecting to? Thus, the mystical theologian insists that the atheist could not have rejected God after all. And a variety of traditional objections to theism, naturally, disappear as well." But that is an oversimplification,I don't know of any theologian who says that. I don't think the point is that atheists can't know to what it is they object. They seem to have a pretty good idea. The point is one must experience the divine not merely read words on paper. The point is that without such experience belief is always hypothetical. Thus unbelief is hypothetical as well. Yet Linford continues to press the point that mystical theology is too veg to understand:
For example, no longer could one say that the widespread suffering in our world is incompatible with an all-knowing, all-powerful, and all-loving God because we would be unable to say what these properties indicate about God. If God is “all-knowing,” “all-powerful,” and “all-loving,” but in no way that we can understand, then, whatever that way is, it might be compatible with any degree of suffering whatsoever.
We can know love when we experience it. We can say one of God's characteristics is love. We can know what that means because we have experienced love from people and we can experience God's love. Atheists knowing the words we speak about love will not give us the answer. It is from God. It;s not a matter of logic. it's not something that knowing the rules of reason will help us with.
Linford lists three major points by way of criticisms of mystical theology:
(1) Armstrong’s theology is a veg assertion:
He says: "First, as Christian philosopher Alvin Plantinga has pointed out, concerning a similar view, why should we think that God has this sort of transcendence — the sort where we do not possess words adequate to describe God — and not some other? Armstrong’s theology seems to be nothing more than a vague assertion." Yet one wonders what exactly he is calling a veg assertion? The idea that reality is created by or centered around a universal consciousness capable of creating, is that veg? Trying to show such a consciousnesses could be and how it could be eternal is going to entail a lot of gaps in knowledge but that hardly makes it veg. Mystics know that God has this sort of transcendence because they have experienced it that is not veg.
(2) revelation is meaningless
Linford again: "Second, the theist would have no reason to maintain belief in religious doctrines that had been provided only through divine revelation. Why not? As philosopher Erik Wielenberg has pointed out, there is a significant problem for revelation if we can know so little (nothing, really) about God." I deal with this issue at length in the final chapter of my book: The Trace of God  I argue that we should not base doctrines upon mystical experience. That is not its purpose. It is not a divination mechanism (or a divining rod) but merely the effect of God's presence upon our consciousness. Mystical theology need not be about doctrine. I also argue that due to the metaphorical nature of all language the mystic's basic plight is merely a stepped up example of the same kind of problem of meaning that all langue and all people have. The mystic finds a more effective solution in moving beyond the hypothetical to the actual. Linford argues further: "Consider the statement 'God is good.' The mystical theologian insists that the word 'good,' as it appears in this statement, cannot be understood by finite humans. If that is so, we cannot know what God’s goodness entails. For all we know, God may have reasons, beyond our comprehension, for lying to us." I don't think many mystical theologians argue that or think that way. I have direct contradiction in Hans Urs Von Balthasar (1905-1988) who, like me, insists we experience what we call "Good" from God. We can experience even if we lack the words to name, AsBalthasar says:
The one, the true, the good, the Beautiful, these are what we call the transcendental attributes of being, because they surpass all the limits of essence, and are coextensive with Being. If there is an insurmountable distance between God and his creature, but if there is also an analogy between them which cannot be resolved in any form of identity, there must also exist an analogy between the transcendentals—between those of the creature and those in God.
(3) Mystical Theology negates evidence for the existence of God
On this issue he argues:
Consider some phenomena behind which one might suspect the handiwork of God. Such phenomena can only count as evidence for God if we have reason to think that God was likely to produce the phenomena in question. Indeed, if God was comparatively unlikely to produce some phenomenon, the latter may actually count as evidence against the existence of God. Yet mystical theology tells us that we cannot know what God is likely to do or to want. For all we know, any purported evidence of God’s presence is actually evidence of the contrary.
First of all, if one has had real mystical experience that just doesn't matter. The sense of certainty of God from mystical expedience is so powerful it doesn't matter if one has no other arguments. But secondly, there is no reason why we can't have both. The kind of evidence we have through reason to make God arguments only tells us very scant hypothetical things not much at all beyond the mere idea that God exists. That is all God arguments are for any way. We don't make doctrine from them either.
"Mystical theologians may object that God is not to be inferred through evidence of design in nature (as Intelligent Design advocates insist) but is instead to be experienced. This is no better: if we cannot know what sort of phenomena God is likely to produce then we cannot know what sort of experiences God is likely to trigger within us." Where does he get the idea that we can't know what God is like? Surely one knows what someone is like through experiencing encounters with that person. Just because it can't be adequately put into words doesn't mean it can;'t be known. Ideas can be voiced in analogical terms and while not giving complete disclosure can put one in the right direction. We can say accurately and in words "God is love." Knowing experimentally what love is and still being unable to put it adequately and fully into words, the basic concept is still meaningful. Once that much is worked out (God = thumbs up) we don't need to draw from it that God is an every other month sabaterian for example.
his conclusion wildly wrong:
"Mystical theologians should find it troubling that religious experience cannot provide us with reason to believe in God, but apparently they don’t. Both Armstrong and Haught argue that we can only come to know God experimentally while at the same time implicitly barring the intelligibility of religious experience, thus leaving us without God." That may be his most ridiculous assertion. The basic assertion that mystical experience can't offer a reason to believe is just patently absurd. It is not at all uncommon for mystical experience to be a conversion experience. Failing a textbook mystical experience it's even more common for an experience of a sort mystical to be a conversion experience, mu own included. Linford seems to be confusing belief with doctrine. It's mistake to try and base doctrine on mystical experience. Mystical experience is not a communication aimed at clarifying details about the nature of reality. It is merely the result of experiencing God's presence, it's not a means of relying acruate data other than the basic fact of God's love (God's love is real, we might occlude, because God is real in that sense mystical experience tells us God is real). Linford seems to assume that belief comes with intellectual understanding and that comes with doctrinal clarity. These not are fallacious ideas, they are elements of faith and some conversions can be that way, But but they are not formulaic. People come to believe in God because they sense (at some level) the reality of God not because they are awed by superior logic in doctrine.
Daniel Linford is an adjunct professor of philosophy at Thomas Nelson Community College. His main interests are in philosophy of religion, philosophy of science, and early-modern atheism. Dan recently earned his master’s degree at Virginia Tech and is currently applying to PhD programs.
 Joseph Hinman, The Trace of God:Rational Warrant for Belief. Colorado Springs: Grand Viaduct 2014, 337-373