Apr 062013

moses (1)In the last installment, we saw that the idea of everlasting punishment is not compatible with a God of love. But isn’t a a hell of everlasting punishment taught in the scriptures? No, but they have been aggressively mistranslated and misinterpreted to make you THINK they do.

Let’s start with the Old Testament. When Moses and the prophets gave the law, they warned people that whoever broke God’s laws would suffer in hell forever. Oh no wait. They didn’t say that at all. The curses for breaking the law included famine, sickness and war, but NOT eternal torment. 1

But doesn’t the Old Testament mention hell? No. The Old Testament uses the Hebrew word “Sheol”, which means the grave or the place of the dead. Both the righteous and the unrighteous go to Sheol. But the translators of Bibles like the King James pulled a trick on us. They knew that whenever Christians hear the word “hell” they think of eternal flames. So whenever the Old Testament mentioned wicked people going to Sheol, they translated the word as “hell”, and whenever it mentions righteous people going to Sheol, they translated it as “the grave” – even though they are the same Hebrew word. It’s simply the place of the dead. There is no mention of screams and torment in Sheol. In fact it was called a land of silence 2
This is similar to the use of the Greek word “Hades” in the New Testament. As you may remember from Greek mythology, Hades was simply the underworld. Like Sheol, it was a place of the dead, good or evil. But Jesus does use another word that is translated as “hell”. Most of the images of flames and punishment come to us from Jesus’ use of the Hebrew or Aramaic word “gehenna” or “gehinnom”. For example:

“If your eye causes you to sin, tear it out! It is better to enter into the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into hell (Gehennah), where their worm never dies and the fire is never quenched.” 3

So what exactly is “Gehenna”. It sounds like a punishment of everlasting fire. But is it? Well, it turns out that it’s actually a valley just outside of Jerusalem. Depending on which historians you read, this valley was either a dump where the garbage was burned, or a valley of tombs, or the place where in ancient times they sacrificed to the god Molec. Perhaps all three of them. It’s also a place where Isaiah claimed God would burn the bodies of the wicked after a great last battle. In fact, Jesus is quoting Isaiah when he mentions it. Here’s what Isaiah says.

“They shall go forth, and look on the dead bodies of the men who have transgressed against me: for their worm shall not die, neither shall their fire be quenched; and they will be loathsome to all mankind.” 4

But Isaiah isn’t talking about souls in hell, he’s talking about dead bodies. So many that the fires go on and on. And it’s interesting that many of the people Jesus preached to ended up slaughtered a few years later when the Romans destroyed Jerusalem, and the Roman 10th Legion burned the bodies of the dead in Gehenna valley. 5

So was Jesus simply warning people about the destruction of Jerusalem? Some commentators think so. But about this time, the rabbis also began to use Isaiah’s prophecy of physical destruction as a symbol of a purification process after death. A person who had been wicked would suffer fiery pain in this spiritual Gehenna, but after their wickedness was purged, they would come out. The fires of Gehenna might continue to burn, but no one would spend more than a year in Gehenna, and some would come out much sooner, after they had paid their debt in full, as Jesus said. 6

But what about all the scriptures that talk about eternal suffering and punishment? Here’s where the biggest mistranslation comes into play.

With no exception that I can find, when the Bible mentions eternal or everlasting punishment, the word it uses is “aionios” This is derived from the Greek word “aeon”. That word probably looks familiar, because it’s where we get the word “eon”, meaning a long period of time. But in Greek it could apparently mean ANY period of time, from a week to many generations. So these “eternal” torments are actually “age-long” torments. They may last a long time, or at least seem to, but they come to an end. Also the word Jesus uses for these punishments is “kolasis” 7 which is the word used for pruning away the dead wood from a tree to improve it and help it grow. It is purification to improve a person, not endless punishment to torture them. There’s no point in pruning a tree forever. But over the centuries, theologians began to translate “aionios” as eternal and everlasting, to make the punishments seems more horrible, probably to frighten people into being obedient.

If God had wanted the scriptures to convey the idea of a hell of everlasting torment, surely he would have mentioned it in the Old Testament? Surely Jesus and the apostles would have chosen words that really meant “eternal” or “everlasting” when describing God’s purification (there are several Greek words to choose from). The idea of hell hardly appears in Paul’s writings at all.

St Augustine said that whoever interprets the scriptures in a way that doesn’t teach love – doesn’t understand them. And we’ve just seen that in order to get the Bible to teach a God who tortures most of humanity forever, you have to mistranslate and misunderstand quite a bit.

So what DOES happen to the wicked after death? There are a lot of possibilities, and we don’t need to sort it all out right now. All that’s important for this episode is that we realize that if there are punishments after death, then they are limited, and they are redemptive. As for the rest, some early Christians, as well as some today, believe that God will save everyone. This is called universalism. Some early Christians, as well as some today, believed in some kind of reincarnation. Some believe that the wickedest souls will be destroyed, rather than punished forever. This is annihilationism. You don’t have to believe any of them. Some people combine parts of all of them. I’m going to refer in the annotations to a video of my mentor Bishop Lewis Keizer where he explains the mystical Jewish view of what happens to these various parts of the soul after death. 8

But the moral of the story is that God is just and merciful. We will be punished for our sins, but only to the extent necessary to purify us so that we can move on. You can still follow Jesus without having to think God is a monster who punishes most people forever and ever.

Until next time, I’m Keith Campbell for Godsmarts. See you soon.

  1. Deut 28:16-8, Lev 26:14-29
  2. Ps 94:17
  3. Mk 9:47,48 NET
  4. Isa 66:24, WEB
  5. Gabriel Barkay, “The Riches of Ketef Hinnom.” Biblical Archaeological Review 35:4-5 (2005): 22–35, 122–26
  6. Mat 5:26, Luk 12:59
  7. See Matt 25:46
  8. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HG98q8jRcJg
Jul 262006

This page is an attempt at simplification of the material on Christopher Small’s website, at http://www.stats.uwaterloo.ca/~cgsmall/ontology2.html If you want to go through the complete agonizing detail, I recommend you check it out there. Ok, to business.

What does it mean to say “God is great” or “greatest”? It is to judge between some attributes, and call them positive.

Kurt GodelKurt GodelGodel invented a notation for this as follows:

Pos(x) means that “x” is a positive attribute. What does this mean? Well we could judge this on some sort of aesthetic basis, looking for beauty or moral goodness. Godel choose for his ontological argument to keep it in the context of “pure attribution”. By this he seems to mean things that ADD TO BEING, rather than being a lessening of being.

Pure positive attributes are also absolute- and don’t depend on the changing nature or accidental structure of the world. In modal language:

Pos(F) >> #Pos(F) (for an attribute to be positive implies that it is NECESSARILY positive)

Some more details about positive attributes:

Axiom G2: Pos(F) >> ~Pos(~F) (if F is positive, it’s opposite is negative)

This contradicts Brian, who insisted that, for example, God would have to be both absolutely good and absolutely evil to be the “greatest”. In Godel’s proof, only attributes with add to being or indicate MORE BEING are positive, and their opposites are absolutely negative.

Godel next proved, through a process I won’t repeat here, but which you are welcome to pursue on the page I listed, that positive properties had to be “consistent” – and by that, he means “possible”. It makes no sense to claim that an impossible property is positive, and Godel proved that it would involve a logical contradiction. He wrote this as follows:

Axiom G1: Pos(F) >> * (Ex) Fx “For every positive property, it is possible that there exists an x which has that property)

Definitions: with this in mind, Godel defines formally what he means by “God”. A Godlike individual, says Godel, would be one for whom every essential property is positive, and every positive property is essential. Christopher Small translates this as:

Definition G1 – Gx = df(F) [#Fx == Pos(F)]

“In a Godlike individual x, for every property F which is positive, it is necessary that x have that property”

As a note, this does not say that God can’t have accidental properties that are not positive.

I will skip over some of the intermediate work of definitions and cut to the chase, since we’ve lost most people by now.

Axiom G3: Pos(G) “The quality of being God-like is positive”. There is considerable verbiage devoted to this axiom on the website, but I think most of us can simply nod.

Corrolary G1: * (Ex) Gx “It is possible that a Godlike individual exists” (Proof: Theorem G1 and Axiom G3)

Axiom G4: Pos(NE) “Necessary existence is a positive property” (Proof: already discussed previously. Necessary being would be greater being)

Theorem G2: Gx >> G Ess x “x being a Godlike individual implies that Godhood is the essence of x” (I skipped the disscussion of essence. Read it if you like. Basically it implies a property that isn’t accidental or contingent – but essential. The proof involves theorems I skipped. Again, I think this one’s pretty obvious. God isn’t just simply God by a strange quirk of chance 😉

Theorem G3: #(Ex) Gx “It is necessary that there exists an individual who is a godlike individual”

This is basically the QED – it is necessary that God exists, so I’ll try to show the proof.

We stated in definition G1 that being Godlike involved having every positive property necessarily. We stated in G4 that necessary existence is a positive property (and hence the godlike being would have it necessarily) We stated in theorem G2 that if there is a godlike individual, godhood is his essence. From the definitions of necessity (which we skipped) we conclude that if any individual x is God-like, then the property of being God-like is necessarily exemplified. This can be written symbolically as:

(Ex)Gx >> # (Ex)Gx “if there exists an x, and x is godlike, it is NECESSARY that there exists an x who is godlike”

Now it’s just cranking the logical equations…

  1. [(Ex)Gx >> # (Ex)Gx] (necessitation axiom of modal logic) “it is necessary that if there exists an x, and x is godlike, it is NECESSARY that there exists an x who is godlike”

Brief pause to introduce a new theorem of modal logic:

  1. [p>>q] >> (*p >> *q) (let’s call it the possibility theorem) “if it is necessary that p implies q, then the possibility of p implies the possibility of q”

Applied to the above, this gives us:

  • (Ex)Gx >> *#(Ex)Gx “the possibility that their exists a godlike individual implies the possibility that the existence of a goodlike individual is necessary”

But Corollary 1 told us * (Ex) Gx “It is possible that a Godlike individual exists”… therefore:

  • #(Ex)Gx “it is possible that it is necessary that a godlike individual exists”

but, according to theorem S5 of modal logic…

  • #p >> #p “if it is possible that it p is necessary, then p is necessary”

Applied to the above,

  1. Gx – it is necessary that God exists.
Jul 262006

Next in my tour of arguments for the existence of God, a perennial favorite, the Ontological Argument for the Existence of God.

St. AnselmSt. AnselmThe argument is originally credited to St. Anselm, who probably developed the ideas as a meditative technique, rather than an actual argument. Since his time, a number of brilliant minds have both defended and attacked the argument. It’s proponents have included Leibniz, Godel and Plantigna. At the current time, my assessment is that the proponents of this argument have the upper hand over it’s detractors. The version I will give here is one that uses a form of logic called modal logic. There have been some attacks on modal logic, and there are forms of the argument that do NOT use it, but they are a bit complex, and the attacks on modal logic also seem to have petered out. If anyone is a real critic of modal logic, I can post the other version of the argument or links to it. First, I’ll explain the symbolism I’ll use for the logic and the basic axioms of modal logic.

Symbols of modal logic:

1. “>>” Material implication. Example x>>y is “x materially implies y” (usually written like a side-ways horse shoe)

2. “~” Negation. Example ~x is “Not x”

3. “*” Possibility. Example *x is “It is possible that x” (Usually written as a diamond)

4. “#” Necessity. Example #x is “It is necessary that x” (Usually written as a square)

5. “V” the “or” operator. Example x V y is “Either x OR y”

Basic axioms and postulates of modal logic:

1. #x >> x “If it is necessary that ‘x’ is true, then ‘x’ is true”

2. x >> *x (contrapositive) “If x IS true, then it is possible for x to be true”

3. #(x>>y) >> (#x >> #y) (called ‘modal modus ponens’) “If it is necessary that x being true implies y is true, and x is necessarily true it implies y is also necessarily true.”

4. #x is true if x is a proven axiom (the principle of necessitation) “If we can prove that x MUST always be true, then x is necessarily true”

5. #x V *~x (law of excluded middle) “Either it is necessary that x is true, or it is possible that x is NOT true”

6. #x >>##x (Beckers first postulate) “If x is necessarily true, then it is NECESSARY that x is necessarily true”

7. *x >> #*x (Becker’s second postulate) “If it is possible that x is true, then it is NECESSARY that x is possibly true”

The Modal Ontological Argument (g = God exists)

Axiom 1: *g (“it is possible that God exists”)

Axiom 2: *g >> #g (“if God exists, he exists necessarily (he is not a contingent being)”)

The proof

1. *g >>#g (axiom 2) “if God exists, he exists necessarily”

2. *~g >>#*~g (Becker’s second postulate) “if it is possible God doesn’t exist, it is necessary that it is possible God does not exist.

3. #g V *~g (excluded middle) “Either God necessarily exists or it is possible he does not exist”

4. #g V #*~g (substitute 2 into 3) “Either God necessarily exists or it is necessarily possible he does not exist”

5. *~g >> ~g (contrapositive of axiom 2) “If it is possible God doesn’t exist, God doesn’t exist”

6. #(*~g >>~g) (necessitation postulate on 5) “It is necessary that if it is possible God does not exist, God does not exist”

7. #*~g >> #~g (modus ponens on 6) “If it is necessary that it is possible that God does not exist, then it is necessary that God does not exist”

8. #g V #~g (substitution of 4 into 7) “Either it is necessary that God exists or it is necessary that he does not exist”

9. ~#~g (axiom 1) “It is not necessary that God does not exist”

10. #g (8 and 9) “It is necessary that God exists”

A Possible Worlds Version:

Assuming that the modal proof above was a tad hard to follow for some, let me give Plantigna’s “possible worlds” version, which I have used here before.


Maximal excellence: To have omnipotence and omniscience in some world

Maximal greatness: To have maximal excellence in every possible world.

Why is it maximally great to have maximal excellence in every possible world? Because this indicates that God’s greatness doesn’t depend on this or that particular circumstance. God MUST have maximal excellence, regardless of the possible world in which he is present. Nothing can prevent him from having maximal excellence.

1. There is a possible world (W) in which there is a being (X) with maximal greatness.

i.e. It is possible that God exists.

2. But X is maximally great only if X has maximal excellence in every possible world.

3. Therefore, X is maximally great only if X has omnipotence, omniscience and moral perfection in every possible world.

4. In possible world W, the proposition “There is no omnipotent, omniscient being” would be impossible – that is, necessarily false.

5. But what is impossible does not vary from world to world.

6. Therefore, the proposition, “There is no omnipotent, omniscient being” is necessarily false in this actual world too.

7. Therefore, there actually exists in this world, and must exist in every possible world, an omnipotent, omniscient being.

The last time we tried this, we got hung up a lot on point 5, with some suggesting that there are possible worlds where what is impossible DOES vary. This is a misunderstanding of what is meant by “possible worlds”. A “possible world” is a theoretical construction of a world that differs from ours only in it’s contingent details, NOT in the laws of logic. A world where the impossible is possible is not a “possible” world, but an “impossible” one. Without resolving the question of whether the laws of logic can in fact change, let’s just agree that for this example, we are considering only that set of worlds that obey the laws of logic – where that which is logically impossible does not vary.

What do these arguments tell us?

There are several trivial attacks against the ontological argument, and a few serious ones. One of the most significant attacks is to point out that the logic of these proofs can be reversed. You can prove with the same analysis that if it is POSSIBLE that God does not exist, then it is absolutely impossible for him to exist.

What these proofs REALLY tell us is that, contrary to what we might assume, God is not a mere possibility – something which may or may not exist. He is either absolutely necessary, or he is logically impossible. Any middle ground is an illusion based on not understanding the concepts involved. Which proposition, then, can marshall more support?

1. It is possible that God exists (and hence he is logically necessary)


2. It is possible that God does NOT exist. (and hence he is logically impossible)

I think the best support can be gathered for #1. It is easy to see that if God exists, he would be the fundamental creator and/or sustainer of every atom and every photon – an absolute necessity. In fact, as we saw in the cosmological proof – if our notions of cause and effect, and the principle of sufficient reason, have any application on the cosmic scale, God WOULD be absolutely necessary.

On the other hand, it is difficult to see why the existence of God should be a logical impossibility. For one thing, we can coherently form a conception of God – something we really can’t do of logical impossibilities. We can form coherent concepts of CONTINGENT impossibilities (like pink unicorns) but NOT of logical impossibilities (like square circles). I can get my mind around the concept “If God exists, he exists necessarily”. The contrary, that if God does NOT exist, his non-existence is a logical necessity – just doesn’t seem as convincing. And it it much harder to summon up the idea “There is a possible world W where God is logically impossible” than the contrary.

Secondly, millions of people claim to have had some kind of contact with God in mystical or religious experience. This should give the benefit to at least the possibility of God’s existence – and, as we have seen from the proof, if God is at least possible, then he necessarily exists.

Godel also formulated an argument for God’s possibility based on some very interesting principles, which I can introduce later if anyone’s interested.

Jul 262006

There are a numberof versions of cosmological arguments for God floating around out there, and a number of serious refutations to the classical version of this proof. I want to introduce to the readership here a “new and improved” version of the cosmological proof developed by Mortimer J AdlerMortimer J AdlerMortimer Adler, professor of philosophy at the University of Chicago (chairman of the “Great Books” program, founder of the Aspen Institute, etc. etc..)

I’ll try to give a bit of a simpler (and hence slightly less precise) version than Adler uses.

A Cosmological Argument for the Existence of God.

First of all, many critics of cosmological arguments have reasoned that we don’t need a first cause. There can simply be an infinite series of causes, each explaining the other for eternity. Let’s grant this possibility. Perhaps existence can be passed on through some sort of “inertia of being” from one link in an infinite chain to the next. Let’s assume, then, for the purposes of our improved cosmological argument, that the cosmos is eternal. On to the simplified argument:

1. If something exists, and requires a cause, then the cause also exists. 2. The cosmos as a whole exists. 3. The cosmos as a whole is contingent (ie only possible) rather than logically necessary, it therefore requires an ongoing cause outside itself preventing its non-existence. 4. Any cause outside the contingent cosmos is both supernatural (since the cosmos includes all of nature) and non-contingent, this supernatural, necessary cause is God.

The controversial premise is clearly #3. Let’s elaborate on it a bit.

One of the points critics try to make is that perhaps the cosmos as a whole is logically necessary. I would argue that it is much more likely to be contingent. Here’s why.

The UniverseThe UniverseWe can imagine alternatives to the cosmos. We can imagine a cosmos with different natural laws, different structure, etc. We don’t see any compelling reason why these alternate cosmoses are logically impossible. Ordinarily, it is impossible to coherently imagine something which is logically impossible, such as a square circle. The fact that we can coherently imagine an alternate cosmos strongly suggests that our cosmos is not logically necessary, but merely possible, something which might have been different.

Anything which MIGHT have been different… might also not have existed at all. It’s non-existence is a real possibility.

BUT – given infinite time, all real possibilities would have been realized an infinite number of times. Hence at some point, the cosmos would have ceased to exist. And once replaced by absolute nothingness, the cosmos can no longer pass on its existence.

Hence, the only way this merely possible cosmos can continue to exist – is if a Necessary Being maintains it in existence.

The only alternative is that, despite all appearances, the cosmos as a whole IS logically necessary, even though we have absolutely no proof of that.

It is therefore reasonable to believe, in fact likely, that a supernatural being maintains the cosmos in existence.

Several articles by Dr. Adler discussing these ideas can be found at : http://www.radicalacademy.com/adlertheology1.htm

Jul 262006

After watching and participating in innumerable discussions with atheists over the existence of ‘God’, I am coming to feel that the word ‘God’ itself is an almost insurmountable obstacle to communication.

To an atheist, to believe in ‘God’, means:

That you believe a Supreme Being hand-crafted each species of life separately, and then made it look like they descended from each other. That you believe this Being created the universe 6,000 years ago but gave it an apparent age of billions of years. That you believe this Being, while being wise and benevolent, throws tizzy fits, destroys his enemies if they anger him, changes his mind, orders the slaughter of innocents, plays favorites, asks for human sacrifice as a ‘test’ of obedience, requires elaborate rituals, is pleased with animal sacrifices, and engages in all the other odd behaviors a casual reading of the Old Testament would suggest. That you believe this Being, in the New Testament, is willing to accept the awful torture and murder of his own innocent Son as an acceptable substitute to punishing people who are clearly guilty. That you believe that in spite of his omnipotence, this being is unable to communicate his will in written form without apparent contradiction. That you believe that in spite of wanting to save everyone, this omnipotent being is unable to persuade many people of his very existence. That you believe that this being will totally forgive and eternally reward those who approach him with the right formula, but will condemn to everlasting torment those who were unaware of this formula or were unable to correctly pick this formula from the several competing formulas. That you believe the condemned group above will suffer eternal torment in spite of the possibility of their being more moral, sincere, honest, and trying harder to find the truth than the first group that followed the correct formula. That in spite of an infinite love and goodness, this Being will permit such things as for a small child to suffer a horrible, painful death all the while calling out in vain to this Being for help, so long as it serves his purpose. That you believe in a Supreme Being who’s followers don’t show remarkable signs of being more moral or more intelligent than anyone else ? in fact often LESS so. That you believe in a Supreme Being who’s followers invoke his name as a reason for killing other human beings.

The list could be elaborated on a bit. However, taken as it is, and without any mitigation, the atheist’s position seems entirely sensible. Who would believe in such a Being? Even if he DID exist, what sort of moral blindness would make us want to worship such a being? The only thing more despicable than the being described would be a person who could be bribed into worshipping and obeying such a being for the promise of rewards.

Now some of these issues may be straw men to some degree (although you can probably find a believer out there somewhere to argue for any or all of them.) Others may have reasonable explanations. Still others may not be relevant. But the fact is that in order to even get to the point of having a neutral discussion on the existence of God, you often have to first overcome a list like the above, point by point and line by line.

I’m wondering if I’m not doing a disservice to people by trying to persuade them to believe in ‘God’, when, if I’m successful, there’s a danger they might believe in something like the being above. Clearly, to go from atheism to a belief in the being above is a giant leap backwards. I have a friend who over the course of several years and a lot of conversation, has come to believe in something transcendent, but still refuses to call it ‘God’ because of all the ‘baggage’ that comes with the word. Perhaps it would sometimes be better if we should start from scratch ? pick some more neutral word to talk about the transcendent, and then work our way up. Something like ‘Spirit’ for example.

Jul 262006

All mystics would agree that in absolute, God cannot be completely comprehended by the mind nor described in human words and concepts. God can only be perceived directly through mystical union with him.

For example:

“Quit the senses, the workings of the intellect, and all that may be sensed and known, and all that is not, and is. For by this you may unknowingly attain, in as far as it is possible, to the one-ness of Him who is beyond all being and knowledge”
(St. Dionysis)
“Whatever you think concerning Allah – know that he is different from that!”
(Ahmad Lbn Ata’Allah)
“Tao is beyond words and beyond understanding. Words may be used to speak of it, but they cannot contain it.”
(Lao Tzu)
“Even though God cannot be comprehended, God can be loved. By love, not thought, he can be taken and held. “
(The Cloud of Unknowing)

This is not to say that the proper approach to God is emotionalism. Mysticism is not emotionalism. I’ve been to plenty of Christian gatherings where the primary purpose seemed to be to whip people into an emotional frenzy about God – and trust me, mystical union is the farthest thing from this kind of experience. I have no problem at all putting these kind of emotional experiences into words and human concepts – whereas mystical union is simply impossible to completely explain. It must be experienced.

The ThinkerThe ThinkerGiven, then that all mystics agree that words, concepts and rational arguments about God are to some extent, a “mind game” – they DISAGREE on whether this mind-game is useful. Some clearly think they are NOT…

“Someone who seeks God through logical proof is like someone who looks for the sun with a lamp.”
(Traditional Sufi Saying)

To such mystics, if you really want to know, become a mystic yourself, otherwise, stop wasting your time talking. Others, such as Thomas Aquinas (the real one that is) contend that while human concepts cannot completely comprehend God, they CAN give us limited truth about God which is useful. Bear in mind, of course, that before his death Thomas had a mystical experience which caused him to refer to all his books as “straw” and ask that they be burnt. 😉

But assuming we decide to play the mind game (and as most here know, I happen to really enjoy the mind-game), I still think we can refute the charges of non-cognitivism. The best book I know on this is “How to Think About God” by Mortimer Adler. Adler spends many chapters patiently explaining all the difficulties involved in thinking about God. These difficulties arise out of the fact that God is such a completely unique object of thought. Because of this, few of the categories applied to other objects of thought can be applied directly to God without qualification.

For example, if we say “God exists” we run into the problems pointed out by the non-cognitive argument. Ordinary objects of thought which “exist” have particular characteristics. God’s existence is like these things in some ways and unlike it in others. Ordinary existence is something of an “analogy” for God’s existence. This is why some of the mystics are quite comfortable with saying that “God exists” and “God does NOT exist” are equally misleading statements.

“If I say that “God exists”, this is also not true. He is being beyond being: he is a nothingness beyond being.”
(Meister Eckhart)


Adler, by the way, formulates a positive definite description of God in his book as follows (with a nod to Anselm) “That being, than which no greater can be thought of”. Adler has specific reasons for calling this a “definite description” instead of a “definition” – which center in the differences I mentioned above between God and other objects of thought.

A number of theologians look upon God not as “existing” in the way finite objects exist, but of being “existence itself” or as Thomas Aquinas put it “the essence of essences”. In spite of the Objectivists contention that “Existence exists” I’ve always thought this was trying to make verbs into nouns. Existence doesn’t “exist” any more than “redness” is literally red. Which is entirely different, of course, from saying existence is a fantasy or a fiction.

Jul 262006

I have said, at various times, that at the most basic level, God cannot be coherently denied. Here is what I mean.

I submit that there is no coherent way to deny the following premise:


Whether you hold with Descartes that it is the conscious self which undeniably exists, or prefer space-time as your bedrock – whether that which exists is a Platonic ideal or whether you are a solipsist and deny reality to anything but your own thoughts – SOMETHING out there (or in there) IS. It has reality. Put another way:

1B. Something is real

If the “real” exists – then there must unavoidably be a “reality” – a foundation of some kind for the “real” – which makes one thing REAL and another not. Some philosophers call this the “Ground of Being” but I find people get confused by “being”(they tend to think it implies consciousness) So let’s call this thing “The ground of reality” (just in case there are layers of it, let’s be clear that we’re talking about the foundational layer, whatever that may be).

The Ground of Reality – quite simply, is God. It is the Ultimate Object of Concern. Now you can object, quite rightly, that the Ground of Reality (let’s call it the GR) hasn’t been shown to have any of the qualities we associate with God. We haven’t proved that it is loving, or personal – and most certainly haven’t shown that it goes around thundering commandments from mountaintops. We know very very little about it so far. All we can claim at this point is that it IS, and that it is the Ultimate Object of Concern. Once you run into the GR, there is no further back you can go. This would still be enough, in my book, to make it the object of supreme awe or reverence. It would be “God”, even it it were a quite different God from what we imagine.

Now looking back at the “religious experience” line of inquiry, we find that one of the universals cropping up in descriptions of mystical experience is the idea that what is being experienced has the qualities of being the foundation of reality – the GR. Some examples:

“every being has a secondary existence of its own apart from the Godhead but that this disappears before the penetrating gaze of the mystic which uncovers the unity of essence behind it.” (Jewish)

“… God presents himself in the inmost depths of my soul. I understand not only that he is present, but also how he is present in every creature and in everything that has being, in a devil and a good angel, in heaven and hell, in good deeds and in adultery or homicide, in all things, finally, which exist or have some degree of being, whether beautiful or ugly” (Catholic)

“…He is transcendent above all His works even while He is immanent within them… “ (Protestant)

“He is the pure Being by which ‘that which is’ is. “ (Islam)

“There are three classes of devotees. The lowest one says, “God is up there,” and he points to heaven. The mediocre devotee says that God dwells in the heart as the “Inner Controller.” But the highest devotee says: “God alone has become everything. All things that we perceive are so many forms of God.” (Hindu)

“… we and all sentient beings fundamentally have the buddha nature as our innermost essence… “ (Buddhist)

“Worlds and particles, bodies and beings, time and space: All are transient expressions of the Tao” (Taoist)

Related Posts with Thumbnails