Sunday, December 11, 2011

Theism and Philosophical Faith

I don't usually comment on this topic; I leave it indeterminate. I find discussions about God overly simplistic and in an academic climate, if it is found out that you are a theist, people generally dismiss you without much foresight. But as I get further into the dissertation about Scheler, I am constantly questioning his move to Catholicism, and the romanticism of the universal church and feudalism central to his political thought. As a philosopher, I could spill nothing more original, newer or insightful into the discussion of God. In fact, I am anything but conventional with respect to God even though I take fellowship in the life that church offers.

For me, God is not a paternal authority in the heavens that revealed his infallible word in the form of the Bible that informs us as to how things literally are. This type of naivete with respect to scripture and to the concept of God unnerves me. Accordingly, not much can be said about God. It's not as if we have a speculative use of reason that can apprehend through intuition or the imagination what God must be like. In fact, Kant showed that speculation can both affirm and deny the thesis of God's existence with equal precision. As such, we are left within an "antinomy". This happens because speculation over extends its concepts without having any frame of reference in experience. For Kant, reason operates within strict limits. Therefore, if traditional metaphysics is deprived of its right to use speculative reason and moreover it has never been grounded in experience, reason loses its authority altogether to create a metaphysical system in which God is understood (or in which God is rejected). Kant's thought is liberating. Let me explain.

When a scientist and creationist both insist on the literal truth of their belief about the universe, they are attempting to describe reality as such. The scientist reifies his current models, considers them literally true about the structure of the world compared against Biblical literalism in much the same way that metaphysicians thought they could describe reality as such in speculation. Some might not insist it is the same since scientific procedures are open to revision through systematic experimentation. However, to be against the falsity of Christianity, the skeptic proposes science as a static alternative no matter what that current alternative is. Neurath's boat is taken as is. It's only relevance is that it is a substitute for a religious perspective.

When a religious observer insists that what is written is literally true, the religious observer denies there exists anything like interpretation. The Earth must have been created in 6 days. God revealed scripture as inerrant to human beings through revelation. As such, the content of the literal language cannot be challenged under any other guise but itself. Religious truth somehow transcends the attempt of finite human beings to understand its content given the distance in historical context of a nomadic people speaking a different language to the politics of what books exactly could count as official scripture.

When scientists desire to refute religion, they reify scientific content to be revealing of reality and its structure as such. When religious observers desire to refute science, they reify religious content to be revealing of reality and its structure as such. In both cases, they over-extend their concepts and on top of that reify reality to suit their own needs. In both cases, reality is, at best, a mind-independent world of facts that can be disclosed as such. This is similar to the Kantian position in which both the thesis and the anti-thesis are asserted without having any ground in experience. The mistake lies in not only considering the world mind-independent, but in thinking that one also has access to that mind-independence and the taken for granted assumption that reality endures uniformly as such. Under such a view, the epistemic standpoint we take up to reality is vastly oversimplified, and this explains the oversimplification of both. The scientific perspective cannot reify the world; it requires inquirers to maintain an openness such that future models of explanation can be revised. Likewise, the religious perspective relies on inquirers maintaining an openness to future possibility since God exceeds any representation we may have of She/He/It. Such an openness requires interpretation and not the literalism that accompanies that understanding. This can be shown in what faiths means.

Faith is not simply an epistemic standpoint with commitments attached to it such that it can be replaced by a superiorly informed standpoint of science. It is not as if these standpoints trade only on knowledge about reality as such and that's all that needs consideration. When scientists make that shift in an argument where they trade one belief that describes the world for another, they have forgotten that life cannot simply be reduced to the epistemic position from which it is judged, and more than that, the epistemic standpoint is not primitively-basic to life as many past analytic philosophers have regarded (I can have more to say about this later). Instead, life is a matter of a dynamic orientation we maintain towards the world.

God is not a being separate and apart from the world anymore than subjectivity for me is separate and apart from the world. Instead, being-human consists in taking up the possibilities towards life and experiencing the world in a very "thick" way. Every scientific or religious possibility involves this dynamic orientation of life. And within that orientation, both succumb to the relational possibility we call experiencing the world. Each bears within itself a limit to what can be experienced. For the scientist, the world is a series of causal relationships and the scientist seeks to control and harness nature for human purposes. It is therefore silent on the very transcendence of God if God is taken to be above and beyond the representational-causal order, and within a religious orientation, God is best regarded as the God not-yet-arrived (the kingdom yet to come), the expression of everything that is wholly other.

Since God cannot be known with any exactitude and exists as beyond all representational order, it is a matter of faith that it is taken up and lived just as much as the faith operative in science might summarized as the belief that nature is accessible to experimentation. The only requirement of this faith is not in reifying it as a possibility with a determinate content, but instead faith requires the openness to the God to which exceeds all representation. By exceeding all representation, God cannot be appropriated for any particular agenda, belief or creed. He cannot legitimize the oppression of that which is different and other. In this very exceeding representation, God's inability to be appropriated, reified and used for some instrumental end is the model by which the otherness found in humankind must be treated. In God as wholly other, so too is one human being completely and wholly other unto himself/herself, and it is this absolved and transcendent individual uniqueness that human being shares in God.

In such a conception, the transcendence of God is not a reality-as-such. It is not a metaphysical transcendence objectively discerned. Instead, the transcendence of God lies in the very same unique singularity of one individual. As Jean Paul Sartre showed a man is a "series of projects" that transcend himself. Many of our concerns and projects take on a life of their own above and beyond their origin in us, and yet in some sense, we must take ownership of them as well. They are as much a possibility for others as they are for us, and it is in this being-responsible-for in which any woman or man reveals his unique singularity to the world. In this way, I draw upon the same existential attitude that exhibits projects that man comes to exceed himself and likewise within God too. This transcendence, however, is a communal possibility, a renewed possibility in which we all must honor the singularity of God. The singularity of God is the infinite wholly otherness found in each other, and so it comes as no surprise that God is the call of the ethical demand to serve the otherness found uniquely in all of us.

Now, this might be hard to swallow, especially since I sit in a pew next to you. I will not share that I am a philosopher. Amongst other church-goers, I am merely a man sitting next to them. I do not share my skepticism about literalism of scripture, nor do I tell them that I see literature as an articulation of a symbolic order conditioned by language, history and the uniqueness of the interpreter. I merely see God not as a metaphor but as a possibility in which community can be realized and a tradition to ground it. The part at which religion becomes negative is when that which exceeds representation becomes a dogmatism rather than the openness required in the inter-human world. It is in this openness towards difference, multiplicity and otherness in which my faith can be found. It is a faith of possibility and that is all God could ever be.


apropoetess said...

"I merely see God as a possibility" -- very sweet words. Enjoyed this post on your blog immensely. Also glad you are able to nudge the minds/hearts of my two favorite atheists ;>)!

apropoetess said...

"I merely see God not as a metaphor but as a possibility" -- sweet words. I enjoyed this post on your blog immensely. Also glad to know you nudge the minds/hearts of two of my favorite atheists ;>)!

apropoetess said...

"I merely see God not as a metaphor but as a possibility" -- sweet words. I enjoyed this post on your blog immensely! Also am very glad that you nudge the brains/hearts of my two favorite atheists ;>)!

Carbondale Chasmite said...

Actually, I could recommend several works that reflect on the experience of God differently than the more popular articulations in the media. I think Nate's reaction to Christianity is my reaction to Evangelical biblical-only theology that insists on inerrancy and literalism which denies interpretation completely of the historical embeddedness of scripture. There are wonderful postmodern reflective traditions making sense of Christianity despite the call inerrancy and literalism I find so foolish.

For me, the most influential on me has been J. Aaron Simmons book, God and the Other. John Crossan's book on the parables of Jesus interpret Jesus as a figure that destabilizes oppressive political structures, and I think Kierkegaard's "Fear and Trembling" to be one of the classic meditations on God. My God, however, is not that Abrahamic, but more loving, more Jesus-ish.