return to religion-online

The Metaphysics of Faith and Justice

by Schubert M. Ogden

Dr. Ogden is professor of theology and director of the Graduate Program in Religious Studies at Southern Methodist University, Dallas, Texas. His most recent book is Faith and Freedom: Toward a Theology of Liberation (Abingdon, 1979.) The following article appeared in Process Studies, pp. 87-101, Vol. 14, Number 2, Summer, 1985. Process Studies is published quarterly by the Center for Process Studies, 1325 N. College Ave., Claremont, CA 91711. Used by permission. This material was prepared for Religion Online by Ted and Winnie Brock.


 

I

Thanks to the political theologies and theologies of liberation the question of faith and justice has now become a, if not the, central question of Christian theology. For all the discussion recently devoted to it, however, whether the question has as yet been adequately answered is far from certain. One reason for this is that the proper relation between faith and justice still remains highly controversial. Despite widespread agreement that faith by its very nature inevitably finds expression in moral action, whether or to what extent faith also demands to be expressed through specifically political action continues to be disputed. In fact, some theologians, faced with what they take to be the virtual identification of Christian faith with political action, have been so concerned with distinguishing faith and justice as at least to seem to argue for their separation. On the other hand, those theologians for whom a specifically political responsibility is the demand of faith itself so react against what they take to be misguided attempts to separate faith and justice as to give every appearance of simply identifying them.

But if this familiar polarization in theology continues right up to the present, it is not the only reason for doubting that the question of faith and justice has been adequately answered. Another reason is that up to now insufficient attention has been paid to the metaphysical aspect of the question and, in this sense, to what I mean by Ďthe metaphysics of faith and justice." Of course, neither faith nor justice is a matter of metaphysical belief or reflection. But it is certainly arguable that both faith and justice necessarily have metaphysical implications and that it is of the utmost importance theologically for these implications to be made fully explicit.

According to the Christian witness, faith is the kind of basic human attitude or disposition that can be formally characterized as an existential self-understanding, or understanding of our own existence, in relation to others and to the encompassing whole of ultimate reality. As such, however, faith is the only self-understanding that is both explicitly authorized by Jesus who is said to be Christ and -- as Christians claim in saying this is who Jesus is -- implicitly authorized by the whole of ultimate reality itself as our authentic self-understanding. Consequently, even though faith itself is an existential, rather than a metaphysical, matter, it necessarily implies certain claims about the ultimate reality of self, others, and the whole in its structure in itself as well as in its meaning for us; and the proper name for all such claims is precisely "metaphysical." Furthermore, if this same faith has moral as well as metaphysical implications, including the specifically political implication of justice, the justice that faith demands necessarily implies the same metaphysical claims as the faith that demands it.

I conclude, therefore, that the question of faith and justice can be adequately answered theologically only insofar as attention is given to the metaphysical aspect of the question. As it happens, however, the theologies that have made this question central in the current discussion have tended, on the whole, either to neglect this aspect of the question or else to proceed more or less uncritically in explicating the metaphysics of faith and justice. Instead of thinking out the full metaphysical implications of the basic understanding to which they have come in reflecting on the meaning of faith and justice for our self-understanding and praxis, they have either settled for talking merely about the meaning of ultimate reality for us or else taken over traditional metaphysical ways of talking about the structure of ultimate reality in itself that are doubtfully consistent with their own basic understanding. At the same time, the other theologies that have contributed most to explicating and justifying the metaphysical implications of the Christian witness seem to have been typically preoccupied more with theoretical questions of belief and truth than with practical issues of action and justice, and so have contributed only indirectly to clarifying and answering our central question. One may also wonder, perhaps, whether the marked speculative tendencies of some of these theologies have not kept such contribution as they have actually made from being clearly recognized in its bearing on the question.

In any event, the point of these broad generalizations, to all of which there are obvious exceptions, is only to explain why the argument I now propose to develop seems to me to be relevant to this symposium. Without exaggerating the need for what I shall do, I want to offer some theological reflections, first, on the relation between faith and justice and then, second, on what I take to be their necessary metaphysical implications. My purpose in doing this is in no way to set forth an adequate answer to our question, either in the one part or in the other, but simply to say enough to open up our subsequent discussion, through which I hope we may together succeed in further clarifying the question, whatever our success in answering it.

As for the characterization of my reflections as "theological," I mean simply that they belong to either the process or the product of critically reflecting on the Christian witness of faith so as to be able to validate the validity claims that it expresses or implies. Specifically, any act of Christian witness advances the claims, implicitly if not explicitly, to be both appropriate to what is normatively Christian and credible in terms of common experience. Since both of these claims not only can be but in fact are problematic, the primary level of praxis that is properly called "Christian witness" creates the need for the secondary level of reflection that is properly distinguished as "Christian theology." Among the other things this entails is that the adequacy of theological reflection must itself be judged by the same two criteria of appropriateness and credibility whereby it has to judge the adequacy of Christian witness. For our purposes here, this means, not that I shall argue for my claims by showing why they satisfy these two criteria -- there simply is not enough time to show this -- but that I am bound to allow that they are the criteria by which you may judge the validity of whatever I shall say. In allowing this, however, I would remind you that the deeper difficulty with all theological discussion is that the specific requirements of such general criteria are themselves always controversial. This is why, in conducting our discussion here, we will all need to be mindful of both of the levels on which it must perforce be conducted, so that we each accept the same double responsibility: not only to satisfy the specific requirements of our general criteria of adequacy but also to specify just what it is that these criteria now require.

II

Turning first to the relation of faith and justice, I wish to argue that even when "justice" is understood not merely in a generally moral but in a specifically political sense, the demand for justice is a demand of faith itself. Thus, in my understanding, the relation between faith and justice is a special case of the relation between faith and good works. Just as, in general, good works are distinct from faith and not to be identified with it, and yet are also demanded by faith and not to be separated from it, so justice in its political meaning as right structures of society and culture is both distinct from faith and demanded by it, and hence neither identifiable with faith nor separable from it. But if this understanding is correct, both poles in the familiar polarization on the question involve equally serious, even if precisely contrary, misunderstandings of how faith and justice are really related. My task now is to explain briefly why just this seems to me to be the case and why I hold, accordingly, that both of the usual alternatives can and should be overcome.

I noted earlier that, according to the Christian witness, faith may be characterized formally as an existential self-understanding. But I immediately went on to add that it is the only self-understanding explicitly authorized by Jesus whom Christians assert to be the Christ, the point of their assertion being that it is also the very self-understanding implicitly authorized as the authentic understanding of our existence by the mysterious whole of ultimate reality that they call by the name "God." If we ask now for the material content of this self-understanding, the only adequate answer is that it is an understanding of ourselves and all others as alike objects of the unbounded love of God, which is to say, of the inclusive whole of ultimate reality of which both the self and others are parts. It is precisely the gift and demand of this unbounded love that are decisively re-presented through Jesus; and to understand ourselves as we are thereby explicitly given and called to do is to actualize the one possibility of self-understanding that is properly called "Christian faith" (Ogden, 1982).

It is of the essence of this self-understanding to have a distinctive double structure; it is both trust in Godís love alone for the ultimate meaning of our lives and loyalty to this same love as the only final cause that our lives are to serve. Although in both aspects, faith is a human response to Godís love, its first aspect of trust is relatively passive, while its second aspect of loyalty is relatively active. Moreover, the priority of the first and more passive aspect of trust to the second and more active aspect of loyalty is absolute. For it is precisely out of our acceptance of Godís love in trust that we alone become sufficiently free from ourselves and all others to be truly loyal to Godís cause. It is no less true, however, that if we truly trust in Godís love, we cannot fail to live in loyalty to it. Thus, while this second aspect of faith is and must be strictly posterior to the first, there is nevertheless but one faith with two aspects, each of which necessarily implies the other.

To be loyal to Godís love, however, is to be loyal not only to God but also to all to whom God is loyal; and this means, of course, everyone, both ourselves and all others. But to be loyal to another necessarily involves -- if, indeed, it is not simply another word for -- loving the other, in the sense of so accepting the other as to take account ofthe otherís interests and then acting toward the other on the basis of such acceptance. So it is that the faith that can originate only by our trusting in Godís prevenient love for all of us can eventuate only in our returning love for God and, in God, for all whom God loves.

This means that the returning love that faith involves is like the prevenient love to which it responds in being, in its own way, unbounded. This it is, in the first place, because the love demanded from us, like the love given to us, covers the full range of creaturely interests. Because Godís love itself is subject to no bounds and excludes nothing from its embrace, there is no creatureís interest that is not also Godís interest and, therefore, necessarily included in our returning love for God. This explains why the first commandment that we shall love God with the whole of our being can be fully explicated only by the second commandment that we shall love our neighbors as ourselves. But as the first commandment itself makes clear, our returning love for God is unbounded, in the second place, because it covers the full scope of our responsibility. Because we are to love God with all our heart, and with all our soul, and with all our mind, and with all our strength, nothing of ourselves is to be withheld from our love for God and for those whom God loves. In this sense, all of our powers and all of the possible uses of our powers are governed by the one demand for love that is necessarily implied by the demand for faith itself.

To recognize this is to understand why the self-understanding of faith necessarily has properly moral implications. Clearly, if all of our powers and all of the possible uses of our powers are governed by the demand for love, the whole sphere of action through which we actualize our powers must be at least indirectly governed by this same demand. But it is precisely the sphere of action, including both how we act and what we do. that is the proper concern of morals. Thus even though faith as such lies beyond the sphere of action in the sphere of existence or self-understanding, it is nevertheless inseparable from action, and its necessary implications for action are properly moral. In general, we may say that these implications include everything that follows for human action -- both how we are to act and what we are to do -- from a love for God and for all others in God that is unbounded in the two respects just noted, and so covers both the full range of creaturely interests and the full scope of human responsibility. Of course, just what these implications do include at any given time and place is a variable, which depends not only on the actual circumstances of action but even more importantly on some understanding of the range of relevant interests and of the extent of human powers for realizing them. But if changes in Christian morals are to this extent inevitable, what never changes is that the returning love for God in which faith by its very nature eventuates always has just such properly moral implications and that they always pertain to acting in the situation in a distinctive way -- namely, so as to take account of all the interests affected by our action in order to realize these interests as fully as circumstances allow. Recalling, then, the classical definition of justice as giving everyone his or her due, we may summarize the argument up to this point by saying that the faith which works by love inevitably seeks justice and finds expression in it.

The question remains, however, whether this faith also demands justice in the specifically political sense of the word. Granted that faith does indeed imply justice in the generally moral sense of right action that gives each his or her due, what this does and does not imply depends upon some understanding of what is due to those whose interests are affected by our action and of what we are able to do to realize these interests. Clearly, the understanding of these matters that underlies the demand for justice in the specifically political sense is closely related to our distinctively modern historical consciousness, by which I mean our consciousness of ourselves as historical subjects who bear full responsibility for creating ourselves and one another in and through our creation of society and culture. In other words, we can experience the demand for political justice as we do because we have now become aware that the social and cultural structures by which human existence is always limited are neither divine appointments nor natural givens but human creations. Thus we now recognize not only that we have the power in principle to transform these structures so that they more nearly allow for the realization of all relevant interests but also that it is in the deeper interest of all creatures that there be a social and cultural order that frees each of them to realize its interests as fully as possible in solidarity with all the others.

The final conclusion of the argument, then, depends upon appealing not only to the moral implications of faith in any situation, but also to the understanding of ourselves and of our fellow human beings as the agents of history that is pervasive of our situation today. On the other hand, once this understanding can be presuppposed, we have the right to conclude that justice is a demand of faith itself even in the specifically political sense of creating and maintaining right structures of social and cultural order. As a matter of fact, with the full consciousness of our own historical agency, we become aware that the justice which love inevitably seeks and in which it finds expression is, above all, political justice. Of course, the love through which faith works must still continue to accept others and to act in their interests within society and culture as presently constituted. But with the change marked by historical consciousness, the first and most fundamental responsibility of love is for a just ordering of society and culture themselves -- for so forming or transforming their most basic structures that they allow for the fullest possible realization of all relevant interests, thereby giving to everyone his or her due.

The real relation between faith and justice, then, resists both of the usual ways of viewing their relation as alike misunderstandings. Rightly understood, faith and justice are in principle different because, while faith is a matter of human existence, of authentic self-understanding in trust and loyalty in response to Godís love, justice is a matter of human action, whether right action toward all others (its generally moral sense), or right structures of social and cultural order (its specifically political sense). But this means that faith and justice can and must be clearly distinguished and can never be simply identified without being seriously misunderstood. At the same time, faith and justice are also in principle connected, just as in general human existence is in principle connected with human action insofar as any understanding of ourselves cannot but have implications both for how we are to act and what we are to do. In fact, the deepest root of all human action is in the self-understanding that constitutes any human existence distinctively as such. This means that we can avoid the contrary but equally serious misunderstanding of faith and justice only if we recognize that they also can and must be integrally related and can never be simply separated. For this reason, but without in any way simply identifying them, we may say that the specifically political demand for justice is a demand of faith itself.

III

My task now is to pursue the question of the metaphysics of faith and justice as thus understood. Assuming that they are really related in the way I have argued, how do we make fully explicit what they necessarily imply about ultimate reality -- not only in its meaning for us but in its structure in itself?

To clarify this question, it is necessary, first of all, to ask just what is included under the term "ultimate reality" and how, accordingly, we properly understand the scope of metaphysics. According to a well-known definition of William Jamesís, the real is "what we in some way find ourselves obliged to take account of" (p. 101). Accepting this definition, we may infer that "ultimate reality" covers everything that we are all finally obliged to take account of insofar as we exist humanly at all, whatever other things we may or may not have to take account of in each leading our own individual human life. In other words, ultimate reality includes everything necessary in our experience or self-understanding, as distinct from all the other things that we experience or understand that are merely contingent relative to our own existence simply as such. If we already presuppose, then, that the theistic religious language employed by the Christian witness in authorizing faith in Godís love as our authentic self-understanding can be metaphysically justified, we can say -- as I, in fact, have already been saying -- that ultimate reality includes not only the self and others but also the encompassing whole of reality that theists refer to when they use the name "God." Significantly, it is this very threefold differentiation of ultimate reality into self, others, and the whole, or self, world, and God, that underlies the understanding of metaphysics that has been conventional in the Western tradition since at least the seventeenth century. In this understanding, the scope of metaphysics includes both metaphysica generalis, or ontology, understood as critical reflection on strictly ultimate realityí as such, and metaphysica specialis as comprising the three disciplines of psychology, cosmology, and theology, understood as critical reflection respectively on the three ultimate realities of self, world, and God.

My judgment is that this conventional scheme is still useful provided one avoids certain misunderstandings that an unthinking use of it may perhaps encourage. One such misunderstanding would be to suppose that there can be an adequate distinction between general metaphysics or ontology, on the one hand, and the discipline of special metaphysics called "theology," on the other. Given the concept of God necessarily implied not only by the Christian witness but by any radical theism, God is not merely one reality among others but is in some sense reality as such. But if this kind of theism is metaphysically true, ontology itself must be theology even as theology can only be ontology. Much the same would be true of the distinction between ontology and cosmology as well if, as some forms of radical theism maintain, the concepts of God and the world are correlative concepts. In that case, the constitutive concept of ontology, namely, "reality as such" would be strictly equivalent to the distinction or correlation between the constitutive concepts of theology and cosmology, "God" and "the world."

But whether the world as well as God is, in some respect, a strictly ultimate reality and, therefore, makes any adequate distinction between ontology and cosmology also impossible, there is hardly any question that the self, at least, is in every respect contingent and hence cannot possibly be a strictly ultimate reality. To be sure, the self is ultimate in that it is necessary to our experience or understanding of ultimate reality, including the self; and it is for this reason, presumably, that psychology, understood as critical reflection on the self as thus ultimate, can be represented as the third discipline of special metaphysics. But we would certainly be misled by the scheme that so represents it if we supposed that the self is a topic of special metaphysics in the same sense in which God is and perhaps the world is as well. Because the self, radically unlike God, exists only contingently rather than necessarily, its reality is not strictly ultimate and, therefore, falls within the scope of metaphysics only in the broad rather than in the strict sense of the word (Ogden, 1975).

Of course so far as theology is concerned, it is metaphysics in the broad sense including psychology that is most directly relevant. This is clear enough from the foregoing theological reflections on the relation between faith and justice; for whatever else faith and justice may be said to be, they have been shown to be possibilities of human existence, whose metaphysical implications necessarily include claims about the reality of the self such as properly belong to metaphysical psychology. With this in mind, we may begin with some brief comments on the psychology -- or, as I prefer to say, anthropology -- that must be an integral part of any adequate metaphysics of faith and justice.

The comments here can be brief because the main point of such an anthropology has already been made in explaining how faith and justice are both distinct and inseparable as I have argued they are. I refer to the distinction I introduced between human existence or self-understanding on the one hand, and human action or praxis, on the other. Clearly, if this distinction is valid, it is so only because the reality of the human self in its essential structure necessarily involves both of the moments that the distinction serves at once to distinguish and to relate in a definite way. But if the reality of the self indeed has this duplex structure, no anthropology that failed to attend to both of its essential moments in their difference as well as their connection could adequately explicate the anthropological implications of faith and justice. Thus, if an anthropology were to advert to the fact that the self is existence and, therefore, can and must understand itself, all the while ignoring the fact that the selfís possibilities are also always limited by social and cultural structures, it would so understand the self that the demand for justice in the specifically political sense could not be understood as a demand of faith itself. On the other hand, if another anthropology so focused on the social and cultural limitations of the self as either to ignore or to deny that the self nonetheless always bears responsibility for understanding itself and leading its own unique life, it would be equally unable to understand justice in either of its senses as ultimately grounded in the self-understanding of faith.

These examples should suffice to indicate the range of philosophical resources of which, in my judgment, theology is well advised to make us if it is to explicate and justify the anthropological implications of faith and justice adequately. Since in other things I have said on this question I have expressly stressed the importance of existentialist philosophy, I would like to emphasize here that I certainly do not think of it as the only important resource. As necessary as its analysis of the self as existence still seems to me to be to any anthropological reflection, the value of this analysis as well as its limitations are more likely to be justly appreciated when it is viewed together with the other post-Hegelian philosophies of human activity that Richard J. Bernstein has so ably discussed in his book, Praxis and Action. Both Marxism and pragmatism, along with more recent analytic philosophies of action, help to make sure that the other moment of action or praxis in the selfís essential structure will be brought out no less effectively than the moment of existence or self-understanding on which existentialist philosophy so sharply focuses. Also important for the same reason are not only the contributions of so-called philosophical anthropology, especially, in my opinion, Michael Landmannís analysis of human beings as both the creators and the creatures of culture, but also the sophisticated philosophy of human praxis that provides the foundation for the "critical theory" of Jürgen Habermas and, in a somewhat different way, for the "transformation of philosophy" proposed by K.-O. Apel (Landmann, 1961; 1964; Habermas, 1968; 1973; Apel). Although theology must certainly do its own anthropological reflection and cannot rely on any of these resources without criticism, all of them are directly relevant to its task if it is both to explicate and to validate the understanding of the structure of the self that faith and justice necessarily imply.

As for the other, strictly metaphysical implications of faith and justice, I propose to explicate, first, what they necessarily imply for the essential structure of the reality of God. The comments I shall then make about the structure of the world or of reality as such can be more easily made and understood once these theological implications have become explicit.

Faith, as we have seen, is by its very nature our human response of trust and loyalty to the explicit gift and demand of Godís love both for ourselves and for all others. But if the meaning of God for us is the gift and demand of unbounded love that authorizes trust in this love and loyalty to its cause as our authentic self-understanding, the ultimate whole of reality that we call by the name "God" has to have a unique structure in itself. Just as it must be all-inclusive both of self and the world and, therefore, strictly universal in scope and function, it must also be genuinely individual in that it is a single center of interaction, both acting on and being acted on by itself and all others. Ordinarily, of course, universality and individuality are distinguishing properties, the most universal things being the least individual, and vice versa. But if the kind of trust in Godís love and loyalty to its cause that are Christian faith are, in fact, authorized by ultimate reality in its meaning for us, the encompassing whole of reality in its structure in itself must be as individual as it is universal, or as universal as it is individual, and hence an exception to the rule by which individuals and universals are otherwise distinguished.

This conclusion can also be seen to follow from the demand of Godís love as summarized in the two commandments that we shall love the Lord our God with the whole of our being and that we shall love our neighbors as ourselves. Clearly, if it is God whom we are to love with all of our powers, God must be one individual as distinct from all others whose interests we can take account of and act to realize. At the same time, if we are also to accept our neighbors as ourselves and act so as to realize all of their interests, even while all of our powers are to be exercised in our love for God, God must also be strictly universal, in that there can be no interest either of ourselves or of our neighbors that is not somehow included in the interests of God.

The God implied by love for God as well as by faith in God, then, is not simply one individual among others but is the one and only strictly universal individual. This means that the inclusive whole of reality that we experience as strictly necessary in contrast to the radical contingency both of ourselves and of all others must also be distinctively dipolar in its essential structure. It belongs to the very concept of an individual, and hence to any individual whatever, that if is a center of interaction that both acts on itself and others and is acted on by them. Therefore, even the universal individual called "God" must be conceived as having two essential aspects: a relatively more active aspect in which it acts on or makes a difference to both itself and all others and a relatively more passive aspect in which all others as well as itself act on or make a difference to it. Thus the uniqueness of God in comparison with all other individuals does not lie in Godís only acting on others and in no way being acted on by them, but rather in the strictly universal scope of Godís field of interaction with others as well as with self. Whereas any other individual interacts with itself for a finite time only, Godís acting on Godself and being acted on by Godself has never begun nor will it ever end. And so, too, with respect to interaction with others: whereas any individual other than God interacts with some others only, God interacts with all, not only acting on them but also being acted on by them.

In both aspects, God as the universal individual is strictly unsurpassable; and only by being thus unsurpassable both actively and passively can God be the God necessarily implied by the distinctive double structure of Christian faith, and thus be both the ground of unreserved trust and the object of unqualified loyalty. We may trust in God without reservation only because God is unsurpassably active, doing all that could conceivably be done by any one individual for all others as well as itself. Likewise, we may be loyal to God without qualification only because God is unsurpassably passive, being open to all that could conceivably be done or suffered by anyone as something that is also done to God.

But if God can be worthy of our loyalty only by unfailingly suffering all that anyone could possibly do or suffer, what is it exactly that God must do in order to be worthy of the trust that is also distinctive of Christian faith? The answer to this question, in my opinion, is absolutely crucial if the implications of faith and justice for the reality of God are to be adequately explicated. If faith and justice are both distinct and inseparable, as I have held they are, God must do both of two correspondingly distinct and inseparable things in order to be the ground of unreserved trust. On the one hand, God must so act to accept both the self and all others into Godís own everlasting life as thereby to endow them with abiding significance. On the other hand, God must so act in the interests of both the self and all others as thereby to establish the cosmic order of natural law that sets the optimal limits of all other action, where by "optimal limits" I mean limits such that, were they to be set otherwise than they are, the ratio between opportunities for good and risks of evil would be less rather than more favorable than it in fact is.

Elsewhere I have argued that these two things that God must do to be worthy of our trust are what are properly meant respectively by the theological terms "redemption" and "creation" (Ogden, 1979: pp. 82-95). As such they are the two essential aspects of the one work of God ad extra which is Godís unbounded love for all others. But if faith in its first aspect of trust necessarily implies both of these aspects of Godís work, the justice that is the demand of faith in its other aspect of loyalty especially implies the second. Both in its generally moral sense as right action and in its specifically political sense as right structures of society and culture, justice implies that it realizes the same divine interest in the interests of all that is expressed by Godís own work of creation. Even as Godís work as Creator is in the deeper interest of every creature in a cosmic order that frees it to realize its own interests as fully as possible in solidarity with all its fellow creatures, so right actions toward others and, even more so, right structures of social and cultural order are byway of realizing the same deeper interest, thereby carrying forward Godís own work of creation. Thus the justice that faith demands necessarily implies the unsurpassable justice of God, who not only redeems all others from insignificance by accepting them without condition into the divine life itself, but also creates the optimal conditions of creaturely action, thereby doing all that could possibly be done in the interests of all others except what they must each do for themselves and for one another if it is ever to be done at all.

The question now is whether the reality of this God that faith and justice necessarily imply is their only strictly metaphysical implication. My answer is that it is not, because there is a certain respect in which the world as well as God must be said to be strictly ultimate. This is so, at any rate, if one holds, as I do, that the unbounded love of others whose gift and demand are decisively re-presented in Jesus is nothing merely accidental and contingent in God but is Godís very essence and strictly necessary. Of course, the love of God for any particular others could only be contingent, assuming that God alone exists necessarily, all other individuals and events existing or occurring merely contingently. In this respect, Godís love for others and the creation and redemption that are its two essential aspects must themselves always be contingent and so utterly free and gratuitous. But if God is not merely accidentally love of others and essentially love only of self -- and this, I maintain, is what faith and justice necessarily imply -- then that there are some others for God to love and that God, accordingly, is Creator of these others as well as their Redeemer are precisely not contingent but necessary. In this respect, the existence of the world, unlike that of the self, is strictly ultimate; and the concept of "the world," understood as referring to the necessarily nonempty class of realities other than God, all of whose members exist or occur merely contingently, is strictly correlative with the concept of "God."

If this is correct, however, there can no more be an adequate distinction between ontology and cosmology than between ontology and theology. To reflect critically on reality as such is and must be one and the same with critically reflecting on the distinction and correlation between God and the world -- and conversely. Of course, there is the difference that, whereas "God" is not only a concept but a name, designating the one universal individual who alone exists necessarily, "the world" refers to nothing individual but only to a class, at least some of whose members cannot fail to exist or occur -- namely, the class of all individuals and events other than God, any of which exists or occurs only contingently. But as important, and even crucial, as it is to appreciate this difference, the God implied by faith and justice necessarily implies at least some world of creatures other than God, even as any such world of creatures necessarily implies this one and only God as its sole primal source and its only final end.

So far as other implications of faith and justice for ontology and cosmology are concerned, they can be summarized for our purposes by saying that they are in every sense antidualistic, being in one sense monistic, in another sense qualifiedly pluralistic (Ogden, 1983). They are monistic in the sense that any individual or event whatever, whether God or one of Godís creatures, is of one kind of reality only, not of two or more kinds. This implication follows necessarily, I believe, from the concept of God as being strictly universal as well as individual, and hence as not being merely one individual among others but the one individual whose existence is constitutive of reality as such. If God is indeed so conceived, then, to be anything real at all is either to be God or to be a creature of God whose difference from God cannot be absolute; for to be absolutely different from God would be to be absolutely different from reality as such, and so not anything real after all, but simply nothing. Thus it follows from faith and justice that there is only one kind of ultimate subjects of predication and that no difference between any one such subject and any other can amount to an absolute difference in kind, whether it be a merely finite difference between one creature and another or even the infinite difference between any creature and God.

This means, among other things, that even the difference between human creatures such as ourselves and other creatures not similarly capable of self-understanding and moral action is at most a relative, not an absolute, difference. Consequently, there can be no ontological or cosmological justification for restricting the demand for justice to action or structures pertaining to exclusively human interests. On the contrary, because all differences between creatures are relative only, the justice that faith demands requires that we so act as to take account of all interests that can be affected by our action, nonhuman as well as human.

But if the implications of faith and justice are in this way attributively monistic, they are nonetheless substantively pluralistic, even if in a qualified sense. By this I mean that they imply not one, but many, ultimate subjects of predication. Although any individual or event is and must be ultimately of the same kind as any other, there are any number of such realities, each ontologically distinct from all the others. Above all, there is the unique ontological distinction between the self and others as all mere parts of reality, on the one hand, and God as the all-inclusive whole of reality, on the other. Even as each creature is ontologically distinct from every other, so each of them severally and all of them together are ontologically distinct from God. And yet, as I have indicated, the distinction between parts and the whole, creatures and God, is unique; and for this reason the pluralism implied by faith and justice, real as it certainly is, is also qualified.

This became apparent earlier when we took note of the important difference between the two concepts of "God" and "the world." Even though these concepts are indeed correlative in that each necessarily implies the other, the symmetry they thus express between God and the world presupposes an even more fundamental asymmetry between them. For while God could not exist without the world any more than the world could exist without God, what God necessarily implies is not this world or that (since any world, unlike God, is merely contingent rather than necessary), but only some world or other -- or, as I put it before, that the class of all individuals and events other than God not be an empty class. On the other hand, what any world necessarily implies is not merely some God or other (since the idea of more than one God is self-contradictory), but rather the one and only necessarily existing God but for which no world whatever would even be possible or have any abiding meaning (Hartshorne, 1967: p. 64f.). Because of this profound asymmetry between God and the world, the ontology implied by faith and justice is indeed pluralistic but with an important qualification.

With this I must conclude my initial contribution to our discussion. I hardly have to say, I think, that in my judgment the strictly metaphysical reflections of a certain form of process philosophy provide a unique resource for Christian theology. But I trust my argument has helped to make clear why the kind of revisionary metaphysics developed, above all, by Alfred North Whitehead and Charles Hartshorne seems to me all but indispensable to theology if the strictly metaphysical implications of faith and justice are to be explicated and validated both appropriately and credibly.

Having said this, however, I would emphasize that here, too, theology has to do its own metaphysical reflection and cannot afford to be uncritical in making use of this any more than of any other philosophical resource. To be sure, the situation here is not simply the same as it is with respect to the anthropology of faith and justice. In my opinion, at any rate, there is nothing inherently one-sided about this form of process metaphysics, nor is there any other revisionary metaphysics that is at all comparable in the overall adequacy of its strictly metaphysical positions. But aside from the fact that other kinds of metaphysics are concerned with the same problems and, therefore, can hardly fail to make some contribution toward further clarifying them, there are certain well-known difficulties with any speculative or categorial metaphysics that make its critical appropriation imperative. Specifically, there is the root difficulty of whether there can really be any such thing as proper metaphysical analogy, this being the kind of thinking and speaking on which any categorial or speculative metaphysics necessarily depends. Obviously, this is neither the time nor the place to discuss so radical an issue (Ogden, 1982: pp. 127-47; 1984). But unless I am mistaken, it is one of the issues that Christian theology must not only discuss but resolve if it is to carry out its task of explicating and defending the metaphysics of faith and justice.

 

Works Consulted

Apel, Karl-Otto

1973 -- Transformation der Philosophie, Vol. 2: Das A priori der Kommunikationsgemeinschaft. Frankfurt: Suhrkamp Verlag

Bernstein, Richard J.

1971 -- Praxis and Action; Contemporary Philosophies of human Activity. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press

Feinberg, Joel

1973 -- Social Philosophy. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, Inc.

Frankena, William K.

1961 Ė "The Concept of Social Justice." In Social Justice, ed. B. B. Brandt. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, Inc.: 1-29

Gamwell, Franklin I.

1983 Ė "Religion and the Justification of Moral Claims." Journal of Religious Ethics, 11:35-61

Habermas, Jürgen

1968 -- Technik und Wissenschaft als "Ideologie." Frankfurt: Suhrkamp Verlag

1973 -- Erkenntnis und Interesse, Mit einem neuen Nachwort.

Frankfurt: Suhrkamp Verlag

Hartshorne, Charles

1967 -- A Natural Theology for Our Time. LaSalle, IL: Open Court Publishing Co.

1970 -- Creative Synthesis and Philosophic Method. LaSalle, IL: Open Court Publishing Co.

James, William

1911 -- Some Problems of Philosophy; A Beginning of an Introduction to Philosophy. New York: Longmans, Green & Co.

Landmann, Michael

1961 -- Der Mensch als Schöpfer und Geschöpf der Kultur, Geschichts- und Sozialanthropologie. Munich/Basel: Ernst Reinhardt Verlag

1964 -- Philosophische Anthropologie, Menschliche Selbstdeutung in Geschichte und Gegenwart. 2d ed.; Berlin: Walter de Gruyter & Co.

Ogden, Schubert M.

1975 -- "The Criterion of Metaphysical Truth and the Senses of ĎMetaphysicsí." Process Studies, 5:4748

1979 -- Faith and Freedom; Toward a Theology of Liberation. Nashville, TN: Abingdon

1981 Ė "The Concept of a Theology of Liberation: Must a Christian Theology Today Be So Conceived?" In The Challenge of Liberation Theology; A First World Response, ed. L. Dale Richesin and Brian J. Mahan. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books: 127-140

1982 -- The Point of Christology. San Francisco, CA: Harper & Row

1983 Ė "Pluralism." In The Westminster Dictionary of Christian Theology, ed. Alan Richardson and John Bowden. Philadelphia: Westminster Press: 449-451

1984 Ė "The Experience of God: Critical Reflections on Hartshorneís Theory of Analogy." In Existence and Actuality; Conversations with Charles Hartshorne, ed. John B. Cobb, Jr. and Franklin I. Gamwell. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press: 16-37

Walzer, Michael

1983 -- Spheres of Justice; A Defense of Pluralism and Equality. New York: Basic books, Inc. New York: Basic Books, Inc


Viewed 8199 times.