Monday, September 05, 2005

Believing Between the Lines

When people say they believe in God but acknowledge that God is incomprehensible and unknowable, what are they really saying they believe in?

They believe that the world was created intentionally.
They believe there is a purpose in things that happen.
They believe that there is an objective right and wrong.
They believe that there is absolute justice.
They believe in life after death (by necessity of the above belief).

Not all theists will agree to all of the above, though I think you would be hard pressed to find one that didn’t agree to most of them and downright impossible to find one that agreed with none of them. "God" is just the object they point to centralize where all these beliefs come together. It is theology which comes to explain how and why these believed truths about the world came to be. Many religions form to specify or fortify such beliefs.

So I wonder, if one believed in each of these independently outside of a typical theological structure, would he believe in God? I don’t think he would. "God" itself is not necessarily a beloved belief, it is all these other things which theists are really saying when they say they believe in God.

Comments?

10 comments:

elf said...

So I wonder, if one believed in each of these independently outside of a typical theological structure, would he believe in God? I don’t think he would.

It's difficult to conceive of a belief system that included all these things and did not include God. What does it mean to say that the world is created "intentionally" but has no creator? How can things have "purpose" without anyone giving them purpose? Aren't "intention" and "purpose" by definition products of a conscious mind? And how can morality and justice exist if there is no one to ensure them?

"God" itself is not necessarily a beloved belief

I'm not sure how this follows from the previous sentence, but I think there is truth to it. "God" is a fairly meaningless concept without these subsidiary ideas.

Orthoprax said...

Elf,

"It's difficult to conceive of a belief system that included all these things and did not include God."

I don't think it's so difficult, it's just not a typical way of thinking about things.

"What does it mean to say that the world is created "intentionally" but has no creator?"

Maybe creator doesn't mean God. Or maybe "intent" is an athropomorphic word used to describe an event which doesn't really apply. Or maybe it's something else.

"How can things have "purpose" without anyone giving them purpose?"

Maybe they are inherently purposeful. Perhaps forces at work enrich the world with purpose but don't do so with such a result in mind.

"Aren't "intention" and "purpose" by definition products of a conscious mind?"

Maybe strictly, but not necessarily.

"And how can morality and justice exist if there is no one to ensure them?"

Again, by the nature of the universe itself. Karma and such.

I'm just throwing out the idea. I'm hardly prepared to show you an alternative metaphysical worldview.

"I'm not sure how this follows from the previous sentence..."

I was just saying that people don't necessarily like the idea of God itself, but the ideas which come along with God. As you said.

David said...

When people say "God is incomprehensible and unknowable", I don't think they mean that God is incomprehensible and unknowable in every way. Any theological text has to assume that its reader has some sense of what/who God is. It's just that there are aspects of God that are beyond the scope of the mind. What you attribute to those aspects is a different story.

elf said...

Maybe creator doesn't mean God.

Isn't this just a semantics game? People who believe in a First Cause generally call it "God." (And the idea of a creator that isn't a First Cause merely begs the question...)

Or maybe "intent" is an athropomorphic word used to describe an event which doesn't really apply.

This seems to me to reduce your first principle to meaninglessness. The world was created "intentionally," but "intent" doesn't mean "intent"? Whatever does it mean?

Maybe they are inherently purposeful.

I'm not sure that this statement is meaningful, either. Can you give an example of something that is "inherently purposeful"?

Perhaps forces at work enrich the world with purpose but don't do so with such a result in mind.

I could understand this idea if it were formulated in humanist terms, e.g.: "Human beings are able to imbue events with meaning. Therefore, as long as human beings exist, events remain meaningful, regardless of whether our existence was intended by any higher Being." However, you chose to use the vague term "forces." What sorts of forces are these? Natural forces, like gravity? Or supernatural forces, like... gods?

"Aren't "intention" and "purpose" by definition products of a conscious mind?"

Maybe strictly, but not necessarily.


I'm still not convinced that the terms can have any meaning when divorced from the idea of a conscious source.

Karma and such.

Now we are getting somewhere. "Karma" is a supernatural force. People who believe in Karma don't like it associated with the term "God," because of the Judeo-Christian baggage that the latter term carries. However, the concept of God has so many variations that I think it perfectly reasonable to regard "Karma" as a variation on the God-idea.

Overall, what I'm trying to get at is that I think that the ideas you've presented require a belief in some sort of higher Being or Spirit with something akin to what we call consciousness. Some people like to call it "God" and others don't. The terminology isn't particularly important to me, as long as it doesn't obfuscate (which, unfortunately, it seems to do most of the time).

Anonymous said...

"karma is a supernatural force"

If it is part of the order of things it's natural. Why do you find gravity more 'natural' than karma? What's the criteria of the 'super' in supernatural?

elf said...

What's the criteria of the 'super' in supernatural?

Good question. I would say that if something is not detectable or measurable by scientific means, then it is supernatural.

But that does not answer the underlying question, which is whether there can be justice without a conscious force ensuring it. I'm going to take back my previous assertion -- maybe it is conceivable that justice can come about by the natural means. (Not very likely, to my mind, but conceivable.) However, I still maintain that in order for the world to have been created intentionally, there must be (or have been) a conscious Creator.

Anonymous said...

Why would you even question if it's concievable? Why can't you conceive a world with the facts being that whenever you do a good deed a gold coin comes flying down from above (let's not go into the issue if there is objective good, objective justice, or not.)Is the law of attraction more logical? I don't think so.

The fact that we can't measure things doesn't make it supernatural (except if you're referring to "Ein Habrocho Shorah Eloh Bedovor Hasomui Min Hayin" just kidding)It is also even possible that one day we will measure it all out with statistical data and see that good people are better off than bad people. Will it then become natural?

About Intentional Creation,
I think that nobody really cares what intention if at all there was at creation just as nobody really cares if God created the world with five fingers or six. Only if there are consequences for us do we give a hoot. What believers really mean is that due to the fact that it was intenional we then know that He has a purpose for us (who says for us maybe for Him only? but that's what they infer.)The purpose is surely a good purpose so we have something to look forward, so called 'meaning' in life.

Now if there is factually some other planet that we all go when we die that is really all we need and that is really all the beliver is trying to get to. As before, this fact can be as true as gravity as true as the Bahamas or the not so Virgin Islands. So the purpose can be there without Intentional Creation.

Orthoprax said...

David,

"When people say "God is incomprehensible and unknowable", I don't think they mean that God is incomprehensible and unknowable in every way."

It depends who you ask. Some do say just that.

Orthoprax said...

Elf,

"Isn't this just a semantics game? People who believe in a First Cause generally call it "God.""

Generally, but so what? There are exceptions.

"Can you give an example of something that is "inherently purposeful"?"

Y'know those New Age beliefs where they see purpose and meaning in things without any higher being? That's an example.

"I'm still not convinced that the terms can have any meaning when divorced from the idea of a conscious source."

I'm sure there are some who would disagree.

"...that I think it perfectly reasonable to regard "Karma" as a variation on the God-idea."

No, that's wrong. The whole point was that there is the belief without God. You can't then turn around and call the belief itself God.

"Overall, what I'm trying to get at is that I think that the ideas you've presented require a belief in some sort of higher Being or Spirit with something akin to what we call consciousness."

Maybe so, but my point is really neither here or there about anything like that. My point was that all these other beliefs are what believers actually believe in, not God itself. They are predicates on a substance. They believe in brown, solid, and alive, but don't know what a tree is.

Shtern_Zeyer said...

I find the Torah amazingly intuitive, take the concept of God, besides the basic idea of Monotheism which is way ahead of its time, the fact of calling God Hoveh which means Being is a glimpse ahead to the concept of God as Existence, or rather Existence as God. The concept of not naming God is to pull us away from defining God as there is no way in defining existence.
Once one realizes that All the charactarezations attributed to God are poetical metaphors, belief (or non-belief) in God becomes a non issue.


For the Theist i.e. the believer in the metaphorical version of God there is a King that rewards good for good and bad for bad.
For the Atheist i.e. who disregards all metaphors and sees only existence/being, it still makes sense to say that existence rewards good for good and bad for bad.
For, after all, most of us will agree on telling our children (or ourselves for that matter) that they should be decent people and that by being a decent person he will have a better life than if he will be a crook. Which boils down in saying that somehow good gets rewarded and bad punished.

But much more importantly,
For the Theist, the metaphorical God is a Moral Authority. (don't ask me how)
For the Atheist, logic is the Moral Authority, and logic is really existence because logic is what we named the process with which we ascertain facts/existence. (uh huh, I know you don't agree yet but... I do..)

So in the end the only difference between the two is how many poetical metaphors have been peeled away.
I was amazed to see this selfsame thought written in the name of Rav Kook by our Godol (Oy, what got into him lately) that the Kofer just helps us peel away another layer of Idolatry.

Btw, Godol or no Godol, a philoshpher he's not.