Chapter 1: Six Common Mistakes about God
The Mistakes Briefly Presented
I introduce, with a minimum of criticism or argument, six ideas about God which have been held by a great number of learned and brilliant philosophers and theologians through many centuries and in many religious traditions, but which I and many others, including some distinguished modern theologians and philosophers, have found quite unacceptable. In other words, what we attack is an old tradition, but we attack it standing within a somewhat newer tradition. In this newer tradition there is a partial appeal (with reservations) to still a third tradition which is old indeed, expressed in various sacred writings, including the Old and New Testaments of the Bible. For it is our contention that the ''theological mistakes" in question give the word God a meaning which is not true to its import in sacred writings or in concrete religious piety. This result came about partly because theologians in medieval Europe and the Near East were somewhat learned in Greek philosophy and largely ignorant of any other philosophy. This happened in both Christianity and Islam, to a somewhat lesser extent in Judaism. In all three religions there was a development of mysticism, which was different still and in some ways partially corrective of the all-too-Greek form taken by the official theologies.
In section B, I develop at length my arguments against the six mistakes, which together form what I call classical theism (the one too strongly influenced by Greek philosophy as medieval scholars knew that philosophy) and in favor of what I sometimes call the
new theism, sometimes process theology, sometimes neoclassical theism which is my version of a general point of view that has had a good many proponents in recent times.
First Mistake: God Is Absolutely Perfect and Therefore Unchangeable. In Plato's Republic one finds the proposition: God, being perfect, cannot change (not for the better, since "perfect" means that there can be no better; not for the worse, since ability to change for the worse, to decay, degenerate, or become corrupt, is a weakness, an imperfection). The argument may seem cogent, but it is so only if two assumptions are valid: that it is possible to conceive of a meaning for "perfect" that excludes change in any and every respect and that we must conceive God as perfect in just this sense. Obviously the ordinary meanings of perfect do not entirely exclude change. Thus Wordsworth wrote of his wife that she was a ''perfect woman," but he certainly did not mean that she was totally unchangeable. In many places in the Bible human beings are spoken of as perfect; again the entire exclusion of change cannot have been intended. Where in the Bible God is spoken of as perfect, the indications are that even here the exclusion of change in any and every respect was not implied. And where God is directly spoken of as strictly unchanging ("without shadow of turning"), there is still a possibility of ambiguity. God might be absolutely unchangeable in righteousness (which is what the context indicates is the intended meaning), but changeable in ways compatible with, neutral to, or even required by, this unswerving constancy in righteousness. Thus, God would be in no degree, however slight, alterable in the respect in question (the divine steadfastness in good will) and yet alterable, not necessarily in spite of, but even because of, this steadfastness. If the creatures behave according to God's will, God will appreciate this behavior; if not, God will have a different response, equally appropriate and expressive of the divine goodness.
The Biblical writers were not discussing Greek philosophical issues, and it is at our own peril that we interpret them as if they were discussing these, just as it is at our peril if we take them to be discussing various modern issues that had not arisen in ancient Palestine. It may even turn out on inquiry that perfection, if taken to imply an absolute maximum of value in every conceivable respect,
does not make sense or is contradictory. In that case the argument of the Republic is an argument from an absurdity and proves nothing. Logicians have found that abstract definitions may seem harmless and yet be contradictory when their meanings are spelled out. Example, "the class of all classes." Similarly, "actuality of all possible values," to which no addition is possible, may have contradictory implications. If perfection cannot consistently mean this value maximum, then the Platonic argument is unsound. Nor was it necessarily Plato's last word on the subject. (See Chapter 2B.)
Second Mistake: Omnipotence. God, being defined as perfect in all respects must, it seems, be perfect in power; therefore, whatever happens is divinely made to happen. If I die of cancer this misfortune is God's doing. The question then becomes,, "Why has God done this to me?" Here everything depends on "perfect in power" or "omnipotent.'' And here, too, there are possible ambiguities, as we shall see.
Third Mistake: Omniscience. Since God is unchangeably perfect, whatever happens must be eternally known to God. Our tomorrow's deeds, not yet decided upon by us, are yet always or eternally present to God, for whom there is no open future. Otherwise (the argument goes), God would be "ignorant," imperfect in knowledge, waiting to observe what we may do. Hence, whatever freedom of decision we may have must be somehow reconciled with the alleged truth that our decisions bring about no additions to the divine life. Here perfect and unchanging knowledge, free from ignorance or increase, are the key terms. It can be shown that they are all seriously lacking in clarity, and that the theological tradition resolved the ambiguities in a question-begging way.
It is interesting that the idea of an unchangeable omniscience covering every detail of the world's history is not to be found definitely stated in ancient Greek philosophy (unless in Stoicism, which denied human freedom) and is rejected by Aristotle. It is not clearly affirmed in the Bible. It is inconspicuous in the philosophies of India, China, and Japan. Like the idea of omnipotence, it is largely an invention of Western thought of the Dark or Middle Ages. It still goes unchallenged in much current religious thought.
But many courageous and competent thinkers have rejected it, including Schelling and Whitehead.
Fourth Mistake: God's Unsympathetic Goodness. God's "love" for us does not, for classical theists, mean that God sympathizes with us, is rejoiced or made happy by our joy or good fortune or grieved by our sorrow or misery. Rather God's love is like the sun's way of doing good, which benefits the myriad forms of life on earth but receives no benefits from the good it produces. Nor does the sun lose anything by its activity (we now know that this is bad astronomy). Or, God's beneficial activity is like that of an overflowing fountain that remains forever full no matter how much water comes from it, and without receiving any from outside. Thus it is not human love, even at its best, that was taken as the model for divine love but instead two inanimate phenomena of nature, fictitiously conceived at that. Bad physics and astronomy, rather than sound psychology, were the sources of the imagery.
In short, argument from an insufficiently analyzed notion of perfection and a preference for materialistic (and prescientific) rather than truly spiritual conceptions were for almost two thousand years dominant in Western theology.
Fifth Mistake: Immortality as a Career after Death. If our existence has any importance for God, or if God loves us, He-She will notit was arguedallow death to turn us into mere corpses. Hence, many have concluded, a theist must believe that we survive death in some form, and that the myths of heaven and hell have some truth in them. Here the assumption is that a mere corpse on the one hand and on the other hand survival in a new mode of heavenly or hellish existence (in which our individual consciousnesses will have new experiences not enjoyed or suffered while on earth) are the only possibilities. There is, however, as we shall see, a third possibility, quite compatible with God's love for us.
It is notable that in most of the Old Testament, for instance in the sublime Book of Job, individual immortality is not even mentioned. To this day, religious Judaism is much more cautious about affirming, and it often denies, such immortality. In the New Testament Jesus says little that seems to bear on the subject, and
according to at least one very distinguished theologian (Reinhold Niebuhr), even that little is not decisive in excluding the third possibility just mentioned.
Sixth Mistake: Revelation as Infallible. The idea of revelation is the idea of special knowledge of God, or of religious truth, possessed by some people and transmitted by them to others. In some form or other the idea is reasonable. In all other matters people differ in their degree of skill or insight. Why not in religion? In the various sciences we acknowledge some people as experts and regard their opinions as of more value than those of the rest of us. The notion that in religion there are no individuals whose insight is any clearer, deeper, or more authentic than anyone else's is not particularly plausible. In all countries and in all historical times there have been individuals to whom multitudes have looked for guidance in religion. Buddha, Lao Tse, Confucius, Moses, Zoroaster, Shankara, Jesus, Muhammed, Joseph Smith, and Mary Baker Eddy were such individuals. New examples are to be found within the lives of many of us. Pure democracy or sheer equalitarianism in religious matters is not to be expected of our human nature. Some distinction between leaders or founders and followers or disciples seems to be our destiny. But there is a question of degree, or of qualification. To what extent, or under what conditions, are some individuals, or perhaps is some unique individual, worthy of trust in religious matters? It is in the answer to this question that mistakes can be made. Only a few years ago such a mistake sent hundreds to death, partly at their own hands, at Jonestown in British Guiana.
In religions that think of God as a conscious, purposive being, the idea of revelation can take a special form. Not simply that some are abler, wiser, than others in religion, as individuals may be in a science or in politics, but that divine wisdom has selected and so controlled a certain individual or set of individuals as to make them transmitters of the very wisdom of God to humanity. Since God is infallible (can make no mistakes), if no limitations are admitted to this conception of revelation, the distinction between fallible human beings and the infallible God tends to disappear. And so we find letters to newspaper editors in which the writer claims that his or her quotation from the Bible supporting some
political position has the backing of "God almighty." Thus the essential principle of democracy, that none of us is divinely wise, that we all may make mistakes, is compromised.
One defense of claims to revelation is the reported occurrence of miracles. The fact, however, is that in every religion miracles are claimed. Hence the mere claim is not enough to establish the validity of the revelation. Buddha is reported to have spoken as a newborn infant. Was Shotoku Taishi, ruler-saint of seventh century Japan, shown to be of superordinary status by the fact that his death brought forth "rain from a cloudless sky"? Unless one believes (or disbelieves) all such accounts, how does one know where to stop?
What Went Wrong in Classical Theism
Two Meanings of "God Is Perfect and Unchanging."
The word 'perfect' literally means "completely made" or "finished." But God is conceived as the maker or creator of all; so what could have made God (whether or not the making was properly completed)? 'Perfect' seems a poor word to describe the divine reality.
To describe something as "not perfect" seems a criticism, it implies fault finding; worship excludes criticism and fault finding. God is to be "loved with all one's mind, heart, and soul." Such love seems to rule out the possibility of criticism. Suppose we accept this. Do we then have to admit that God cannot change? Clearly yes, insofar as change is for the worse and capacity for it objectionable, a fault or weakness. God then cannot change for the worse. The view I wish to defend admits this. But does every conceivable kind of change show a fault or weakness? Is there not change for the better? We praise people when they change in this fashion. All healthy growth is such change. We are delighted in growth in infants and children. Is there nothing to learn from this about how to conceive God?
It is easy to reply that, whereas the human offspring starts as a mere fertilized single cell and before that as an unfertilized one, God is surely not to be so conceived. However, no analogy between something human and the worshipful God is to be taken in simple-
minded literalness. There still may be an analogy between growth as a wholly good form of change and the divine life. For it is arguable that even an infinite richness may be open to increase. The great logician Bertrand Russell expressed this opinion to me, although Russell was an atheist and had no interest in supporting my, or any, theology.
The traditional objection, already mentioned, to divine change was that if a being were already perfect, meaning that nothing better was possible, then change for the better must be impossible for the being. The unnoticed assumption here has been (for two thousand and more years) that it makes sense to think of a value so great or marvelous that it could in no sense whatever be excelled or surpassed. How do we know that this even makes sense? In my view it does not and is either a contradiction or mere nonsense.
Bishop Anselm sought to define God's perfection as "that than which nothing greater (or better) can be conceived." In other words, the divine worth is in all respects strictly unsurpassable, incapable of growth as well as of rivalry by another. The words are smoothly uttered; but do they convey a clear and consistent idea? Consider the phrase 'greatest possible number.' It, too, can be smoothly uttered, but does it say anything? It might be used to define infinity; but I am not aware of any mathematician who has thought this a good definition. There are in standard mathematics many infinities unequal to one another, but no highest infinity. "Infinite" was a favorite word among classical theists; but they cannot be said to have explored with due care its possible meanings. In any case "not finite" is a negation, and the significance of the negative depends on that of the positive which is negated. If being finite is in every sense a defect, something objectionable, then did not God in creating a world of finite things act objectionably? This seems to me to follow.
Do or do not finite things contribute something to the greatness of God? If so, then each such contribution is itself finite. Does this not mean that somehow finitude has a valid application to the divine life? Consider that, according to the tradition, God could have refrained from creating our world. Then whatever, if anything, this world contributes to the divine life would have been lacking. Moreover, if God could have created some other world instead of
this one, God must actually lack what the other world would have contributed. If you reply that the world contributes nothing to the greatness of God, then I ask, What are we all doing, and why talk about "serving God," who, you say, gains nothing whatever from our existence?
The simple conclusion from the foregoing, and still other lines of reasoning, is that the traditional idea of divine perfection or infinity is hopelessly unclear or ambiguous and that persisting in that tradition is bound to cause increasing skepticism, confusion, and human suffering. It has long bred, and must evermore breed, atheism as a natural reaction.
It is only fair to the founders of our religious tradition to remember that their Greek philosophical teachers who inclined to think of deity as wholly unchanging also greatly exaggerated the lack of novelty in many nondivine things. The heavenly bodies were unborn and undying, and changed only by moving in circles; species were fixed forever; the Greek atomists or materialists thought that atoms changed only by altering their positions. Heraclitus, it is true, hinted at a far more basic role for change, and Plato partly followed him. Plato's World Soul, best interpreted as an aspect of God, was not purely eternal, but in its temporal dimension "a moving image of eternity." However, Aristotle, in his view of divinity at least, was more of an eternalist even than Plato, and medieval thought was influenced by Aristotle, also by Philo Judaeus and Plotinus, who likewise stressed the eternalistic side of Plato. Today science and philosophy recognize none of the absolute worldly fixities the Greeks assumednot the stars, not the species, not the atoms. It more and more appears that creative becoming is no secondary, deficient form of reality compared to being, but is, as Bergson says, "reality itself." Mere being is only an abstraction. Then is there no permanence, does "everything change"? On the contrary (see later, under topic 5), past actualities are permanent. My childhood experiences will be changelessly there in reality, just as they occurred. Change is not finally analyzable as destruction, but only as creation of novelty. The old endures, the new is added.
There are two senses in which freedom from faults, defects, or objectional features, and perfection in that sense, may be applied theologically. The divine, to be worthy of worship, must excell any
conceivable being other than itself; it must be unsurpassable by another, exalted beyond all possible rivals. Hence all may worship God as in principle forever superior to any other being. This exaltation beyond possible rivals applies to both of the two senses of perfection that I have in mind. There are two kinds (or norms) of excellence, which differ as follows. With one kind it makes sense to talk of an absolute excellence, unsurpassable not only by another being but also by the being itself. This is what the tradition had in mind; and there was in it an important half truth. The neglected other truth, however, is that an absolute best, unsurpassable not only by others but by the being itself, is conceivable only in certain abstract aspects of value or greatness, not in fully concrete value or greatness. And God, I hold, is no mere abstraction.
The abstract aspects of value capable of an absolute maximum are goodness and wisdom, or what ought to be meant by the infallibility, righteousness, or holiness of God (one attribute variously expressed). We should conceive the divine knowledge of the world and divine decision-making about it as forever incapable of rivalry and in its infallible rightness incapable of growth. God is not first more or less wicked or foolish (or, like the lower animals, amoral, unaware of ethical principles) and then righteous and wise, but is always beyond criticism in these abstract respects, always wholly wise and good in relating to the world. It is not in such attributes that God can grow. This is so because goodness and rightness are abstract, in a sense in which some values are not.
Put a man in prison. He is not thereby necessarily forced to entertain wrong beliefs, lose virtue, or make wrong decisions. What he is forced to lose is the aesthetic richness and variety of his impressions. He cannot in the same degree continue to enjoy the beauty of the world. Similarly, a person suffering as Job did is not a happy person, but is not necessarily less virtuous than before. We can go further: ethical goodness and infallibility in knowledge have an upper or absolute limit. Whatever the world may be, God can know without error or ignorance what that world is and can respond to it, taking fully into account the actual and potential values which it involves, and thus be wholly righteous. But if the world first lacks and then acquires new harmonies, new forms of aesthetic richness, then the beauty of the world as divinely known
increases. God would be defective in aesthetic capacity were the divine enjoyment not to increase in such a case. Aesthetic value is the most concrete form of value. Everything can contribute to and increase it. An absolute maximum of beauty is a meaningless idea. Leibniz tried to define it. Who dares to say that he succeeded? Beauty is unity in variety of experiences. Absolute unity in absolute variety has no clear meaning. Either God lacks any aesthetic sense and then we surpass God in that respect, or there is no upper limit to the divine enjoyment of the beauty of the world.
Plato viewed God as the divine artist, Charles Peirce and A. N. Whitehead termed God the poet of the world. Is the artist not to enjoy the divine work of art, the poet not to enjoy the divine poem? The Hindus attributed bliss to the supreme reality, and many Western theologians have spoken of the divine happiness, but a careful inquiry into the possibility of an absolute upper limit of happiness has not commonly been undertaken. Plato did write about "absolute beauty" but failed to give even a slightly convincing reason for thinking that the phrase has a coherent meaning.
It is not a defect of a Mozart symphony that it lacks the precise form of beauty which a Bach composition has. Aesthetic limitations are not mere defects. The most concrete form of value has no upper limit; there can always be additional values. God can enjoy all the beauty of the actual world and its predecessors, but creativity is inexhaustible and no actual creation can render further creation superfluous. Absolute beauty is a will- o-the wisp, the search for which has misled multitudes. This is the very rationale of becoming, the reason why mere static being is not enough. Any actual being is less than there could be. There could be more, let there be more. To suppose that this has no application to God is to throw away such clues to value as we have, turn out the light, and use mere words to try to illuminate the darkness that is left.
Two Meanings of "All-Powerful."
The idea of omnipotence in the sense to be criticized came about as follows: to be God, that is, worthy of worship, God must in power excel all others (and be open to criticism by none). The highest conceivable form of power must be the divine power. So far so good. Next question: what is the highest conceivable form of power? This question was scarcely
put seriously at all, the answer was felt to be so obvious: it must be the power to determine every detail of what happens in the world. Not, notice, to significantly influence the happenings; no, rather to strictly determine, decide, their every detail. Hence it is that people still today ask, when catastrophe strikes, Why did God do this to me? What mysterious divine reason could there be? Why me? I charge theologians with responsibility for this improper and really absurd question.
Without telling themselves so, the founders of the theological tradition were accepting and applying to deity the tyrant ideal of power. "I decide and determine everything, you (and your friends and enemies) merely do what I determine you (and them) to do. Your decision is simply mine for you. You only think you decide: in reality the decision is mine."
Since the theologians were bright people we must not oversimplify. They half-realized they were in trouble. Like many a politician, they indulged in double-talk to hide their mistake even from themselves. They knew they had to define sin as freely deciding to do evil or the lesser good, and as disobeying the will of God. How could one disobey an omnipotent will? There were two devices. One was to say that God does not decide to bring about a sinful act; rather, God decides not to prevent it. God "permits" sin to take place. Taking advantage of this decision, the sinner does his deed. Yet stop! Remember that God is supposed to decide exactly what happens in the world. If someone murders me, God has decided there shall be precisely that murderous action. So it turns out that "permits" has here a meaning it ordinarily does not have. Ordinarily, when X gives Y permission to do such and such, there are at least details in the actual doing that are not specified by X (and could not be specified, since human language can give only outlines, not full details, of concrete occurrences). But omnipotence is defined as power to absolutely determine what happens. I have Thomas Aquinas especially in mind here. God gives a creature permission to perform act A, where A is no mere outline but is the act itself in its full concreteness. So nothing at all is left for the creature to decide? What then is left of creaturely freedom?
The most famous of all the scholastics finds the answer, and this is the second of the two devices referred to above. God decides
that the creature shall perform act A, but the divine decision is that nevertheless the act shall be performed "freely." Don't laugh, the saintly theologian is serious. Serious, but engaging in double-talk. It is determined exactly what the creature will do, but determined that he or she will do it freely. As the gangsters sometimes say, after specifying what is to be done, "You are going to like it"in other words, to do it with a will. If this is not the despot's ideal of power, what is?
What, let us ask again, is the highest conceivable form of power? Is it the despot's, magnified to infinity, and by hook or crook somehow reconciled with "benevolence," also magnified to infinity? This seems to have been the (partly unconscious) decision of theologians. Is there no better way? Of course there is.
After all, the New Testament analogyfound also in Greek religionsfor deity is the parental role, except that in those days of unchallenged male chauvinism it had to be the father role. What is the ideal parental role? Is it that every detail is to be decided by the parent? The question answers itself. The ideal is that the child shall more and more decide its own behavior as its intelligence grows. Wise parents do not try to determine everything, even for the infant, must less for the half-matured or fully matured offspring. Those who do not understand this, and their victims, are among the ones who write agonized letters to Ann Landers. In trying to conceive God, are we to forget everything we know about values? To read some philosophers or theologians it almost seems so.
If the parent does not decide everything, there will be some risk of conflict and frustration in the result. The children are not infallibly wise and good. And indeed, as we shall argue later, even divine wisdom cannot completely foresee (or timelessly know) what others will decide. Life simply is a process of decision making, which means that risk is inherent in life itself. Not even God could make it otherwise. A world without risks is not conceivable. At best it would be a totally dead world, with neither good nor evil.
Is it the highest ideal of power to rule over puppets who are permitted to think they make decisions but who are really made by another to do exactly what they do? For twenty centuries we have had theologians who seem to say yes to this question.
Some theologians have said that, while God could determine everything, yet out of appreciation for the value of having free creatures, God chooses to create human beings to whom a certain freedom is granted. When things go badly, it is because these special creatures make ill use of the freedom granted them. As a solution of the problem of evil, this is perhaps better than the nothing that theorists of religion have mostly given us. But it is not good enough. Many ills cannot plausibly be attributed to human freedom. Diseases no doubt are made worse and more frequent by people's not taking care of themselves, not exercising due care in handling food, and so forth. But surely they are not caused only by such misdoings. Human freedom does not cause all the suffering that animals undergo, partly from hunger, partly from wounds inflicted by sexual rivals or predators, also from diseases, parasites, and other causes not controlled by human beings.
There is only one solution of the problem of evil ''worth writing home about." It uses the idea of freedom, but generalizes it. Why suppose that only people make decisions? People are much more conscious of the process of decision making than the other animals need be supposed to be; but when it comes to that, how conscious is an infant in determining its activities? If chimpanzees have no freedom, how much freedom has an infant, which by every test that seems applicable is much less intelligent than an adult chimpanzee? (One would never guess this fact from what "pro-lifers" say about a fetus being without qualification a person, so loose is their criterion for personality.)
There are many lines of reasoning that support the conclusion to which theology has been tending for about a century now, which is that our having at least some freedom is not an absolute exception to an otherwise total lack of freedom in nature, but a special, intensified, magnified form of a general principle pervasive of reality, down to the very atoms and still farther. Current physics does not contradict this, as many physicists admit. When will the general culture at least begin to see the theological bearings of this fact?
In philosophy of religion there is news, but newspapers know nothing of this. Nay more, periodicals of general interest know nothing of it. We have a population that inclines, in the majority, to be religious, but that shies away from any attempt at rational
discussion of religious issues. This is an example of leveling down, rather than leveling up, democracy. People keep implying philosophical doctrines (why has God done this to me?) which philosophy of religion has largely outgrown, as also have the theologies which make some effort to be literate in philosophy and science.
Those who stand deep in the classical tradition are likely to object to the new theology that it fails to acknowledge "the sovereignty of God." To them we may reply, "Are we to worship the Heavenly Father of Jesus (or the Holy Merciful One of the Psalmist or Isaiah),or to worship a heavenly king, that is, a cosmic despot?" These are incompatible ideals; candid thinkers should choose and not pretend to be faithful to both. As Whitehead said, "They gave unto God the properties that belonged unto Caesar." Our diminished awe of kings and emperors makes it easier for us than for our ancestors to look elsewhere for our model of the divine nature. "Divine sovereignty" sounds to some of us like a confession, an admission that it is sheer power, not unstinted love that one most admires.
From childhood I learned to worship divine love. God's power simply is the appeal of unsurpassable love. Again Whitehead put it well: "God's power is the worship he inspires." It is not that we hear Zeus's fearful thunderbolt, see the lightning, and fall down at the sight of such power. No, we feel the divine beauty and majesty, and cannot but respond accordingly. Even the other animals feel it; what they cannot, and we can, do is to think it. Whitehead again: God leads the world by the "majesty" of the divine vision of each creature and its place in the world. God "shares with each actual entity its actual (past) world." "God is the fellow sufferer who understands."
Whitehead read in Plato and Aristotle the wonderfully enlightened doctrine that it is the divine beauty that moves the world. And what is the divine beauty, beyond all other beauties? A thousand voices, alas not quite audible in ancient Greece, have said it; but we still scarcely believe, much less understand, these voices: the beauty beyond all others is the beauty of love, that with which life has a meaning, without which it does not. The Greeks, however, had an argument, a subtly fallacious one, for denying that love is the ultimate principle. Love implies, they saw, that one fails to
have in oneself all possible value and hence looks to another for additional value. Overlooked was the questionbegging assumption that it even makes sense to "have in oneself all possible value," as though value is something that could be exhaustively actualized in one being all by itself. Were that possible, of course its possessor would not need another to love but would exist in solitary glory, incapable of enhancement in any way. And thus the one clue we have to life's meaning is cast away in favor of a merely verbal ideal of the exhaustive realization of possible good.
The novelist and playwright Thornton Wilder ends his novel The Bridge of San Luis Rey with the statement, "Love is the only meaning." In a later work, the play The Alcestiad, Wilder says, "Love is not the meaning. It is the sign that there is a meaning." In context both statements are valid. The love which, in the play, is not the meaning is the love of one human individual for another of the opposite sex. Certainly this is not the meaning, and certainly also it is, or can be, a sign that there is a meaning beyond the love in question. But a meaning beyond all love, human or otherwisethat is a will-o-the-wisp. Higher than one form of love is only a superior form. Grasp of this truth can be found in Ancient Egypt (Ikhnaton), India, China, and Palestine. In Ancient Greece it was not quite seen, and in Medieval Europe there was confusion between the Greek worship of mere eternity or mere "perfection" and the Palestinian worship of unstinted love.
Since any possible world, other than an utterly dead one (if that even makes sense, and some of us doubt it), must involve a multiplicity of individuals each making its own decisions, it follows (though for two thousand years it was not considered proper to say so) that there is an aspect of real chance in what happens. Aristotle and Epicurus knew this, and Plato implied it. But classical theism, supported by the Stoics among the Greeks, held that chance is merely a word for our ignorance of the ways of God. And classical science, until a few generations ago, inclined to hold that even apart from God, whatever happens is determined to happen by the situation in which it happens. The past, whether with or without God but including the laws of nature, determines what happens. The past, with or without God, is omnipotent, or has alldetermining power. Our notion of deciding is illusory; heredity
and environment decide for us. The psychologist Skinner says so. He may or may not believe in God; what is clear is that he does not believe in freedom, except so far as merely doing what we "like" to do constitutes freedom.
Byron wrote, as last line to his "Sonnet on Chillon," "For they appeal from tyranny to God." But how is it if God is the supreme, however benevolent, tyrant? Can we worship a God so devoid of generosity as to deny us a share, however humble, in determining the details of the world, as minor participants in the creative process that is reality?
To fully clarify our case against "omnipotence" we must show how the idea of freedom implies chance. Agent X decides to perform act A, agent Y independently decides to perform act B. So far as both succeed, what happens is the combination AB. Did X decide that AB should happen? No. Did Y decide the combination? No. Did any agent decide it? No. Did God, as supreme agent, decide it? No, unless "decide" stands for sheer illusion in at least one of its applications to God and the creatures. The word 'chance,' meaning "not decided by any agent, and not fully determined by the past," is the implication of the genuine idea of free or creative decision making'creative' meaning, adding to the definiteness of the world, settling something previously unsettled, partly undefined or indeterminate. The combination AB, in the case supposed, was not made to happen by any intention of a single agent but by the chance combination of two intentions. Nor was it made to happen by the past; this is the idea of causal laws that physics is getting rid of and that some philosophers long ago gave good reasons for rejecting.
The new idea is that causal order is not absolute but statistical. It admits an element of chance or randomness in nature. Many of the leading physicists of recent times are quite explicit about this. But they were preceded in principle by some great Greek philosophers, some French philosophers of modern times, and the three most distinguished of purely American philosophers, Charles Peirce, William James and John Dewey. All events are "caused," if that means that they had necessary conditions in the past, conditions without which they could not have happened, however, what is technically termed "sufficient condition," that which fully deter -
mines what happens, requires qualification. Where there is little freedom, as an inanimate nature, there are often conditions sufficient to determine approximately what happens, and for most purposes this is all we need to consider. Where there is much freedom, as in the behavior of higher, including human, animals, there are still necessary conditions in the past, but sufficient past conditions only for a considerable range of possibilities within which each decision maker finally determines what precisely and concretely happens at the moment in the agent's own mind, that is, what decision is made. Even God, as the French Catholic philosopher Lequier said more than a century ago, waits to see what the individual decides. "Thou hast created me creator of myself." Many decades later Whitehead, also a believer in God, independently put the point with the phrase "the self-created creature"; and the atheist Sartre in France wrote of human consciousness as it own cause, causa sui.
Determinists claim that what makes us free is that our "character" as already formed, plus each new situation, determines our decisions. So then the child was determined by the character already formed in its infant past and by the surrounding world, and this character by the preceding fetus and world, and that by the fertilized egg? What kind of freedom is that? By what magic do people miss the fact they are misusing words? Skinner is right; once accept determinism and all talk of freedom is double-talk. The word 'voluntary' (liking it) is good enough for the determinist's freedom; why not stick to it, without trying to borrow the prestige of the glorious word 'freedom'? One's past character is now a mere fact, part of the settled world, almost like someone else's past character. One may be capable of creating a partly new and better character by using the genuine freedom, some of which one has already long had but perhaps has too little or too ill made use of.
Our rejection of omnipotence will be attacked by the charge, "So you dare to limit the power of God?" Not so, I impose no such limit if this means, as it seems to imply, that God's power fails to measure up to some genuine ideal. All I have said is that omnipotence as usually conceived is a false or indeed absurd ideal, which in truth limits God, denies to him any world worth talking about: a world of living, that is to say, significantly decision- making,
agents. It is the tradition which did indeed terribly limit divine power, the power to foster creativity even in the least of the creatures.
No worse falsehood was ever perpetrated than the traditional concept of omnipotence. It is a piece of unconscious blasphemy, condemning God to a dead world, probably not distinguishable from no world at all.
The root of evil, suffering, misfortune, wickedness, is the same as the root of all good, joy, happiness, and that is freedom, decision making. If, by a combination of good management and good luck, X and Y harmonize in their decisions, the AB they bring about may be good and happy; if not, not. To attribute all good to good luck, or all to good management, is equally erroneous. Life is not and cannot be other than a mixture of the two. God's good management is the explanation of there being a cosmic order that limits the scope of freedom and hence of chancelimits, but does not reduce to zero. With too much freedom, with nothing like laws of nature (which, some of us believe, are divinely decided and sustained), there could be only meaningless chaos; with too little, there could be only such good as there may be in atoms and molecules by themselves, apart from all higher forms. With no creaturely freedom at all, there could not even be that, but at most God alone, making divine decisionsabout what? It is the existence of many decision makers that produces everything, whether good or ill. It is the existence of God that makes it possible for the innumerable decisions to add up to a coherent and basically good world where opportunities justify the risks. Without freedom, no risksand no opportunities.
Nothing essential in the foregoing is my sheer invention. I am summing up and making somewhat more explicit what a number of great writers have been trying to communicate for several centuries, or at least and especially during the last one hundred and fifty years.
The medieval doctrine of God's power was in fact virtually refuted i n its own time, by an Islamic scientist, philosopher, and poet Omar Khayyam, freely butas an Arabic scholar has shownessentially correctly translated by the superb English scholar-poet Edward Fitzgerald. As so often happens, the world did not fully
grasp what had happened in the publication of his poem. It could be only a question of time until a new effort would have to be made to find a better way of interpreting the divine power.
We are . . .
But Helpless pieces of the Game He Plays
Upon this Checker-board of Nights and Days;
Hither and thither moves, and checks, and slays,
And one by one back in the Closet lays. (Verse 69)
Oh Thou, who didst with pifall and with gin
Beset the Road I was to wander in,
Thou wilt not with Predestined Evil round
Enmesh, and then impute my Fall to Sin. (Verse 80)
The theology Omar knew was Islamic; but Christianity at the time (eleventh century) was at best ambiguous on the issue of creaturely freedom that Omar was discussing. No theologian was ever more committed to the concept of omnipotence that I, like Omar, am criticizing than the Christian Jonathan Edwards. And he thought, with considerable justification, that he represented the tradition.
Of course Omar's comparison of a conscious animal with "pieces" in a game is nonsensical. But then so is the theology which supposes that such an animal can be entirely preprogrammed, or that its decisions can simply duplicate those made for it by another decision maker. Isaiah Berlin reports J. S. Austin as saying that while many talk about determinism, no one really believes it, "as we all believe that we shall die." This latter belief we take into account in our decision making (not enough, to be sure, but still we do take it into account). In contrast, it is impossible to take determinism into account, for it has no consistent practical meaning. Before I decide I may claim to know that my decision will be fully determined, whether by heredity and environment, or by God, but in what way can my decision take this alleged knowledge into account? After the decision I can say, See what I was preprogrammed to decide! But this in no way or degree helped me to make the decision. It was an idle retrospective application of a useless doctrine. The application in decision making is always too late.
The pieces on the chessboard are not decision makers, the reason being that they are not true singularities but crowds of singularities (molecules or the like). What such crowds "do" is shorthand for what its members do; they are the decision makers. And even classical physics over a century ago began to give up the attempt to conceive molecules as preprogrammed individually. Clerk Maxwell and C. S. Peirce took this to cast doubt on the deterministic idea, but they were geniuses; even after quantum theory there are those who still dream of a deterministic science. Einstein was perhaps the last genius to do this.
I feel that I ought to inform the reader, if he or she is not a philosopher, that today many philosophers defend the doctrine called "compatibilism," holding that determinism is compatible with human freedom. The reason they can do so is that they think of deciding merely as a psychological process of considering various ways of acting with the motives or reasons favoring or disfavoring the ways, and, without any sense of being constrained by anyone, adopting one of the ways. They do not seriously ask what objective significance the process has in the cosmos, what it does to the causal structure of the world. Moreover they are rather vague as to what the causal structure might really be.
Karl Popper says that when a physicist speaks of determinism he has a fairly precise idea of what he is talking about, but when a psychologist or philosopher talks about it "all precision vanishes." Peirce made similar charges. The causal structure of the world was in physics taken to be such that from the state of the whole universe (or an isolated system in it) in two successive moments all earlier and all later states follow exactly, given the natural laws really obtaining. Only ignorance of the previous successions of states and the laws would then explain our uncertainty about future states. But this is all talk about fairyland. We could not conceivably not be in partial ignorance, at least about previous states, if not also about the laws. Maxwell saw this over a century ago and remarked that since only God could possibly have the knowledge in question, and it is not the business of physics to discuss theological questions, determinism was not a proper doctrine of physics.
Maxwell probably did not knowfew did in his timethat there are theologies which deny even to God knowledge of laws implying
determinism, not because of divine limitations but because such laws describe no coherently conceivable world. They leave no room for genuine individuality, that is, for truly individual actions; and without individuals there are also no crowds or aggregates. To be is to act; to be individual is to act individually, that is, as not fully determined by another individual or set of individuals, past or eternal, according to strict law. From the universal to the fully individual there can be no deduction, no necessity. Laws are universals. If they have any role in reality it can only be to limit individual actions without fully determining them. They do forbid individuals to act in certain ways. This is true of many legal laws and moral principles. The principle of kindness does not tell us what in particular to do, but forbids whole classes of unkind actions. The "motives" that psychological determinism says determine actions are always more or less universal. We want to be "helpful" to someone we like, but no abstract idea like "helpful" can be as particular as what we actually do. Always finer decisions are left open by motives, ideals, or laws.
The idea of God fully determining, without constraining, our decisions can appeal to certain analogies. There is the hypnotic analogy. I take an actual case. The hypnotist says, "You will (later on) open the window." It is a cold day, the room is not in the least overwarm. You do open the window, giving some ingenious reasons for this. Has the hypnotist preprogrammed a particular piece of decision making? Not really. He has limited the options, at least as a matter of probabilities. (There is no proof that opening the window was certain to happen; there might have been a slight probability of its not happening.) But there are countless particular, subtly differing ways of opening a window. And those ingenious reasons for an odd action were not preprogrammed at all, so far as the data can prove. They were the real decisions, along with the exact timing, eact motions of the arm, and the like.
Again we can put pressure on people, or exert charm or more or less subtle suggestions, to get people to do what we want them, or think they ought, to do. But the actions themselves are always more particular than the wanting, or the idea of moral obligation.
There is no analogy that unambiguously supports determinism. It is a leap in the dark. No matter how brilliant a hypnotist, no
matter how charming or subtly suggestive, God may be, the creature's concrete, fully definite decision has to be made by it, not by God. Whitehead's terminology is the most exact in history, by a good margin, to express the point. The creature must "prehend" God's "initial subjective aim" proposed to it. The proposed aim is in terms of universals called by Whitehead "eternal objects"my own view does not eternalize universals to the extent Whitehead doesbut the final subjective aim, which is the creature's fully particular decision, cannot follow or be uniquely specified by the initial subjective aim, which is really an outline, not an exact qualitative duplicate of the final aim.
Peirce, Bergson, and Whitehead realize, as may do not, that the ultimate freedom is not in "behavior" but in experience, just how that particular experience prehends its past, including in that past God's decision, already made, for the particular occasion. No matter what motives the past, including me as past, and other actualities offer me-now, I-now must still decide the precise concrete way in which I respond to this offering, just what relative prominence this or that factor receives in my experience of it. "The many become one and are increased by one." My past is a many of events or experiences, including my previous experiences; what is called my character as already formed is simply an aspect of the past history of experiences constituting a sequence of the type that used to be called one's stream of consciousness, the members of this stream having special prehensive relations to previous members and to that complicated society of societies of subhuman actualities making up what is called one's body. (More of this in Chapter 2.)
When determinists talk about freedom as action determined by one's own character, they are blurring together several factors which need distinguishing (illustrating Popper's lack of precision in nonphysicists). If the character in question is your or my present quality as experiencer, that and the present experience are simply two aspects of one actuality. Self-determination in that sense does not imply determinism; but, on the contrary, it means that my character as definite before the decision does not determine but only influences (via present prehension) the present character, decision, or experience.
The question of freedom as a merely psychological process, taken in abstraction from cosmology, is a rather trivial matter. The significance of freedom is in its role in the causal structure of the world. We face certain theoretical options. Either all that exists necessarily exists, or there is contingency. Spinoza and the Stoics explored the first option and it may well be left to them. (Few logicians see any merit in that way of viewing things.) If there is contingency, then either the transition from what could be to what is takes place by 'freedom', 'spontaneity', 'creativity', three words at least two of which are used by a number of thinkers (Bergson, Berdyaev, Peirce, and others), also 'decision' (Whitehead's favorite word here), or the transition does not take place by freedom but is just pure chance. It is, it might not be, c'est tout. This amounts to giving up any effort to throw light on contingency by any positive aspect of experience. Decision (on more or less conscious levels) we seem to experience. If chance or contingency are merely decision viewed from without or behavioristically, and as not fully determined by the past, we have explained a negation by something positive, which is pure gain as I see it.
Supposing that freedom or decision is the positive secret of contingency, that is, lack of necessity, we ask, ''Whose freedom, who or what is the decision maker? Is it God, deciding for all?" Then, while God's decision is contingent, it might, it seems, leave no further contingency for any other being. All might in their supposed decisions necessarily duplicate their portions of the one Divine Decision. And then natural laws might, it seems, be more than approximate or merely statistical. For centuries thinkers leaned toward this theory more or less strongly. It was a bizarre idea. God, being supremely free, decides to have creatures not in the least free so far as this means resolving open options. For the One Decision has closed them, once for all, in eternity. Bizarre, bizarre!
The remaining theoretical option is that God, being supremely free, decides for creatures that are less than supremely, but still somewhat, free. Thus no unqualified determinism. By this sacrifice (what really is lost by it?) we gainI am tempted to sayeverything. A "world" now means an ordered, but not absolutely ordered, system of decision makers, whose decisions will have some chance aspects, with their mixtures of risks and opportunities. A world,
any world, will be exciting, since in it agents really decide things every moment that previously (or from any purely eternal standpoint) were not decided. In any world, at every moment, even God encounters novelties, so that 'becoming' (in total abstraction from which no being can be anything but an empty cipher) applies even to God. In such a world there will be conflicts and frustrations. There is no longer the classical problem of evil. The question now is only, Is there not too much freedom, too great risk of evil, to be justified by the opportunities also open to the freedom? Thus the question becomes one of degree, and then the ancient defence, we are not wise like God and probably not in a position to secondguess divine decisions, becomes at least far stronger than it could be under the old idea of all-determining power (dealing only with the powerless). And at least we are no longer living in fairyland. We can recognize our world as a specimen of what has been abstractly described.
An interesting special case of the omnipotence problem is Abraham Lincoln's thought about it during the Civil War. "The will of God prevails," he said, and derived from this, though with some hesitation, that the war would last exactly as long as God willed it to last, since God, by "working in quiet" on the minds of men could determine it to end at any time. It is not clear just how far Lincoln went toward absolute theological determinism. Perhaps he thought that God made definite decisions only about fairly largescale matters like the ending of a war. He suggested that a long war might mean God's will that the monstrous crime of slavery should be adequately punished. Yet "God's purposes are not our purposes." Lincoln also speaks about "the attributes we attribute to God," presumably referring especially to power and goodness. Like many theologians he seems somewhat more willing to confess our possible ignorance of God's goodness than of his power. Or is he about equally modest in both respects? Surely, unless we are to worship power more than goodness, it is at least as important that we should have a meaning applicable to God for 'goodness' as for 'power'; and what does ''God is good" mean if the kind of purpose it implies is hopelessly opaque to us?
What use could Lincoln really be making of his view that God would determine the exact length of the war? How would it illu-
minate his own actions? Consider, too, that at the end of the war some Northerners would be much concerned to see to it that the South suffered as its rebellion made it "deserve" to suffer. If a long war occurred in order, in the divine judgment, to adequately punish the South (or the South and the North), this would not tell Northerners anything about what to do to prolong or shorten the war. For, only after the end came could one know what God willed in the matter. And if, after the end, one concluded that God had evidently willed the South's suffering to end, this would really be illogical, since other ways to make the South suffer than in war would be quite possible. So Lincoln's forgiveness of the South might be against the will of God? Ah, but wait and see! The will of God prevails. Then was the assassination divinely willed so that the punishment of the South could continue? Where do we stop in this second-guessing of God?
The only livable doctrine of divine power is that it influences all that happens but determines nothing in its concrete particularity. "Knowing" afterwards exactly what God has willed to happen is useless. We can, I believe, know the general principle of God's purpose. It is the beauty of the world (or the harmonious happiness of the creatures), a beauty of which every creature enjoys its own glimpses and to which it makes its unique contributions, but each created stage of which only God enjoys adequately, everlastingly, and as a whole, once it has been created.
Lincoln was a noble soul, supremely great, and he made no bad use of the theology he knew. But he could perhaps have gained something from a better theology. Still more could many souls, less wise and strong, gain what they sorely lack if they were spared useless riddles about divine power and could focus on the inspiration of seeing life as, even in its least moments, permanent contributions to the stores of beauty available selectively and partially to future moments and inclusively and fully to God. Also of believing in God as ideally powerfulin whatever sense this is compatible with having free creatures whose satisfactions and dissatisfactions are divinely participated in God, who can hurt no one without vicariously suffering Him-Her-self, and can gratify no one without vicariously enjoying this gratification. So God's purpose is the welfare of the
creatures as the means, finally, to increase the divine happiness, whose value is no absolute maximum but an ever-enriched infinity.
As a final verbal clarification, I remark that if by 'all-powerful' we mean that God has the highest conceivable form of power and that this power extends to all things not as, with us, being confined to a tiny corner of the cosmos and if this is what the word 'omnipotent' can be understood to mean, then yes, God is omnipotent. But the word has been so fearfully misdefined, and has so catastrophically misled so many thinkers, that I incline to say that the word itself had better be dropped. God has power uniquely excellent in quality and scope, in no respect inferior to any coherently conceivable power. In power, as in all properties, God is exalted beyond legitimate criticism or fault finding. In this power I believe. But it is not power to have totally unfree or "absolutely controlled" creatures. For that is nonsense.
Two Meanings of "All-Knowing."
The word 'omniscient' seems somewhat less badly tarnished by its historical usage than 'omnipotent.' Whereas having all power (of decision making) would be a monopoly, implying that the creatures had no such power, having all knowledge has no monopolistic implications. Only one agent can genuinely make a certain concrete decision; in contrast, many agents can know one and the same truth, e.g., that two and three is five, or that Julius Caesar was assassinated by Brutus. Hence that God knows all truth is quite compatible with you or your brother knowing many truths.
With omniscience there is one difficulty: either knowing about the future differs essentially from knowing about the past, and hence even God knows our past decisions in one way and knows about the future of our decision making in another way, or else it is merely our human weakness that for us the future is partly indefinite, a matter of what may or may not be, whereas God, exalted altogether beyond such a "limitation," sees the future as completely definite. If God is to be thought in every respect immutable it is this second option that must be taken; but have we any other reason for rejecting the old Socinian proposition that even the highest conceivable form of knowledge is of the past-and-definite as past-and-definite and of the future and partly indefinite
as future and partly indefinite? Otherwise would not God be "knowing" the future as what it is not, that is, knowing falsely? As we have seen, the arguments for the complete unchangeability of God are fallacious; hence, the arguments for growth in God's knowledge, as the creative process produces new realities to know, are sound. Thus as Fechner, Berdyaev, Tillich, and, probably independently, Whitehead held (and Berdyaev most neatly formulated), our existence from moment to moment "enriches the divine life." And this is the ultimate meaning of our existence.
Is God all-knowing? Yes, in the Socinian sense. Never has a great intellectual discovery passed with less notice by the world than the Socinian discovery of the proper meaning of omniscience. To this day works of reference fail to tell us about this.
God's Love as Divine Sympathy, Feeling of Others' Feelings.
Throughout the Christian centuries there have been a few theologians who have rejected the conception of God as pure intellect or will, as knowing our feelings but feeling nothing, willing our good but not in any intelligible sense caring about our pleasures or sufferings. Most theologians rejected feeling as a divine attribute. For them it connoted weakness. True, the Church father Origen said that God felt compassion for humanity and therefore sent the Son as Redeemer. But Origen did not systematically develop the point into a significant philosophical doctrine. In general God was not thought of as sharing our griefs and joys. It was not clear at all that the divine knowledge of our feelings was itself feeling. Fechner, the nineteenth-century psychologist, was perhaps the first great exception to this tradition. The nonconformist English theologian A. E. Garvie was a more recent one. He wrote of the "omnipatience" of God, meaning the divine sympathy with our experiences.
The honor of presenting a worked-out technical philosophical system in which the idea of divine sympathy has its natural place goes to Whitehead, with Fechner the principal anticipator. According to Whitehead, the basic relationship in reality is "prehension," which in the most concrete form (called "physical prehension") is defined as "feeling of feeling,'' meaning the manner in which one subject feels the feelings of one or more other subjects. In other words, 'sympathy' in the most literal sense. And Whitehead
used this word also. Moreover, God is said to know the world by physical prehensions, in other words by feeling the feelings of all the subjects composing that world.
In this philosophy it is not mere benevolence that constitutes the divine nature, it is love in the proper sense. Cruelty to other creatures, or to oneself, means contributing to vicarious divine suffering. Hence, of course we should love our fellows as we love ourselves, for the final significance of their joy or sorrow is the same as the final significance of our joy or sorrow, that they will be felt by God. Just so did Fechner see the matter. But the world paid no attention, as it had paid no attention to the Socinian idea of divine knowledge. Merely being right is not enough to impress the busy world, always wrapped up in its more or less unconscious preconceptions. To Whitehead some attention has been paid, but how little compared to the fuss made about Einstein! As Whitehead once remarked to me, Einstein had "all the marks of a great man." Nevertheless, the reason for his fame was not merely the greatness of his discoveries. It was also the fact that they had applications to our physical manipulations of nature, vast industrial and military implications. Theological discoveries are less obvious in their importance.
In fairness to the classical theologians, one thing needs to be said. They realized, quite rightly, that in thinking about God we are likely to apply to deity adjectives that are appropriate enough when applied to ourselves but are unworthy of application to the being exalted above all others, actual or conceivable, and because of this exalted status worthy of being worshiped. To use the word generally employed here, we must in theology beware of anthropomorphism, reading our own human traits into our portrait of deity. When theologians read about Jehovah being "angry," they said, "Surely God is above such emotions as anger, along with those of envy, jealousy, and the like!" All these indications of human weakness in the Biblical account of deity were set aside as concessions to the ignorance or innocence of ordinary people, incapable of the refinements of scholarship or philosophy. Human beings are theologically said to be "images of God"; but the danger of underestimating the vast difference between creatures and Creator is obvious. What seems so strange in the traditional, largely Greek,
conception of God adopted in the Dark Ages and kept intact through the Middle Ages and beyond is partly explained by the vigorous andif kept within its proper limitsjustified effort to keep clear of anthropomorphic tarnishing of the description of God. Certainly, a being totally and in every respect immmutable and open to no increase in value is extremely different from ourselves; however, it is far from clear that anything is left of the "image of God" that is supposed to be in us, and that indeed must be in us if we are to have any idea of God.
What it comes to is that in retreating from popular anthropomorphism classical theology fell backward into an opposite error. Intent on not exaggerating the likeness of the divine and the human, they did away with it altogether, if one takes their statements literally. Using the word 'love', they emptied if of its most essential kernel, the element of sympathy, of the feeling of others' feelings. It became mere beneficience, totally unmoved (to use their own word) by the sufferings or joys of the creatures. Who wants a friend who loves only in that sense? A heartless benefit machine is less than a friend.
If anyone has been more learned in medieval thought than the Jewish scholar Harry Wolfson I have not learned his name. Wolfson's considered judgment was that the scholastic theology utterly failed to express the Biblical idea of God. Many Christian scholars, including the father of the author of this book, have agreed with Wolfson. Many more-or-less skeptical or agnostic philosophers have also agreed with the judgment. A well-meaning attempt to purify theology of anthropomorphism purified it of any genuine, consistent meaning at all. After all, the problem of anthropomorphism is not so simple that only one kind of mistake can be made in dealing with it. If an anthropomorphic idea is one that expresses our human nature, in what sense can we have a nonanthropomorphic idea? Said Emerson, "All of the thoughts of a turtle are turtle." Is it any less true that all of a human being's thoughts are human?
Human beings, unlike turtles, have not only ideas but ideas about ideas. We can make of abstractions things to talk about. If our ideas are all human, we are the ones who can say that this is so. Can the turtle say or in any way think the corresponding thought about itself? Probably not. What is the moral? Charles Peirce
discussed the matter and came to the conclusion that human thought has no alternative to thinking in terms of partial analogies between human nature and nonhuman things.
Consider: a physicist formulates a system of concepts, mathematically definite, and observes nature to see if there is a correspondence between this system and predictable results of experiments. He is testing an analogy between his thinking and what goes on in nature. What the physicist does not do is to even consider the possibility of any analogy, close or remote, between his emotions and what goes on in nature. This does not prove that there are nothing like emotions in nature. At most it proves only that for the purpose of predicting observable, measurable changes in inanimate parts of nature, consideration of how things may or may not feel is superfluous or unhelpful.
In biology, and above all in psychology, however, the question of nonhuman emotions is bound to arise. Only the future will tell how far down the scale of animals toward one- celled organisms and perhaps farther the question can be pursued with scientifically significant results. At present only some philosophers and a few scientists in unofficial moments are paying much attention to the question. What this proves is at most only that the time is not yet ripe for a determined assault on the problem. It is a postponed topic on the agenda. (More of this in the next chapter.)
Among nonhuman things to be dealt with by thought that itself remains human, there are many gradations of difference from our human nature. The difference admits two opposite extremes. There is the extremely subhuman: how does an atom, a particle (or "wavicle"), differ from a human being? Obviously the difference is so vast as to stagger the imagination. At the opposite extreme, how does the uttermost form of the superhuman, the divine, differ from a human being? Here too the analogy seems extended to the breaking point. Indeed the difference is here incomparably greater. For deity is not merely vastly different from ourselves, the difference is more than quantitative or a difference of degree. God alone is conceived as unborn and undying, without possible beginning or termination of existence. Classical theists were impressed, and rightly so, by the radical nature of this distinction from all ordinary things. Yet they forgot that human thinking, even about God, cannot cut
its human root. They made God, not an exalted being, but an empty absurdity, a love which is simply not love, a purpose which is no purpose, a will which is no will, a knowledge which is no knowledge. We are forced to make a new beginning, unprecedented except for a few exceptional and neglected figures, Socinus, Fechner, and some others.
Once more let us try to be fair. The theologians I am criticizing knew that they were skating on thin ice. So they skated warily around what seemed the thinnest places. Thus they said, "We know only what God is not, we do not know what God is positively." But of course they had to retreat now and then from complete consistency with this merely negative position. Between good and bad they said that God is good. This goodness had to be something humanly intelligible to some degree. Otherwise why worship God? As F. H. Bradley sarcastically suggested we cannot worship the Unknowable on the ground that "we do not know what the devil it may be. Being too was attributed to God, with some such proviso as "being itself," or ens a se, self-sufficient being, self- existing being. Also God was regarded as causing or creating the world, so creative action was positively asserted.
Moreover, it is not correct to regard negative statements as necessarily more modest or safe than positive ones. To assert that that is no change in any respect or of any kind in Godas it were, to forbid God to changeis to imply: either there is no essentially good kind of change, the lack of which would be a defect, or else God suffers from this defect. Do we know that there is no essentially good kind of change, lack of which would be a defect? I say that we do not know this. If we know anything in these matters, we know that there is an essentially good kind of change, which is an increase in the aesthetic richness of one's knowledge, as the aesthetic richness of what exists to be known increases. And the idea of an absolute maximum of aesthetic richness is contradictory or meaningless. Hence no world that God knew could actualize for him all possible aesthetic value. The conclusion is that the alleged modesty of "the negative way" in theology was definitely overrated. It was a species of presumption after all.
Paul Tillich's assertion that all statements about God are merely "symbolic" is a variant of the negative way in theology. He does
qualify it by saying that God is literally Being Itself. That this has a good meaning is easily seen from the consideration that if God infallibly knows all truth, then to be is to be-for-God (as known to Him- Her). But, alas, Tillich deduces from this that "God is not a being," an individual. Is God then a mere universal, an empty abstraction? Overlooked by Tillich is the consideration that, although 'a being' suggests one being among others like it, God's being an individual does not have to mean this. God can be, not simply a being, but the being, essential to all, strictly unique in status. For this being is universally relevant, the Subject to whom all individuals are infallibly known objects, and upon whom all individuals depend.
Two Meanings of "Immortality."
One of the penalties of being the freely thinking animals that we are is that, whereas the other animals probably do not consciously know that they are fated to die, we do know it. If "All's well that ends well" is a sound principle, what are we to make of the apparent facts that a human life ends in death and that being dead seems as far as possible from being well? Confronted with this riddle, human beings everywhere have tended to tell themselves tall stories about what being dead is really like. Only the ancient Jews and some of the ancient Greeks were nearly free from this flight from what, for all we really know, is the human condition. In the sublime Book of Job, where the human destiny is reflected upon with great depth and nobility, there is not a word about survival of death. Job worships God, not because God will grant him bliss beyond the grave, but simply because God is worshipful, because worship is the appropriate response to the supreme Creative and Receptive Spirit of the cosmos. A rather different attitude is found in Dante's powerful, beautiful poem splendid literature, but is it sound theology?
As usual, there are ambiguities in the statement of the problem. Life "ends in death" has more than one possible meaning. If "ends in" means "becomes nothing but," then the statement is an absurdity. A conscious state of life cannot become an unconscious state of being dead. Consciousness is consciousness, unconsciousness is unconsciousness, the one cannot be the other. When we write the biography of a person we are not describing a corpse or a heap
of dust. We are describing a stream of experiences and bodily activities, of none of which a corpse is capable. Are we describing a mere nothing; is what we say of the deceased person's life not true; or if true what is it true of? What is the past anyway? It is almost beyond belief how little most philosophers have dealt with this question. What is history about if yesterday's or last year's or last century's events are now simply unreal? It is now that we try to speak truthfully about the past; there must be something to make our statements true if we succeed.
I had a rather happy childhood. Where and what is that child's happiness? I have only a few faint memories of it now. Surely they are not what make it trueif it is truethat I experienced thousands of happy hours, as well of course as some not so happy! Go to the town where I spent my childhoodyou will not find my happy hours there. Yet they are not nothings, they are still definite realities, constituents of the total reality about which true statements can still be made.
If Julius Caesar is now nothing, then how could any statement about him be truer than any other? Nothing has no definite characteristics. Is history only about, not what did exist, but what still survives by way of documents, records, monuments? Most historians think history is about more than such relicts. (I am quoting one of them.)
The structure of time can be conceived in a few basic ways among which we need to choose. We often speak as though only what "exists now" has any reality at all, and what merely did exist is simply nonexistent. Yet a little reflection shows us that apart from our knowledge of the past we know virtually nothing. What exists right now is what we have not yet had time to know. Sounds take seconds at least to reach our consciousness, and even sights are perceived only after an interval spanned by the speed of light. Conscious knowledge is of the past or nothing. Beware then of lightly dismissing the past as candidate for the status of reality! If it is unreal, what reality is there?
It happens that a few philosophers have reflected with care upon the status of the past. They include Bergson in France, the American Peirce, and the Anglo-American Whitehead. Peirce put it neatly: "The past is the sum of accomplished facts." Or again, "It is the
past which is actual." If actuality is what acts upon us, relativity physics tells us that effective actions (apart at least from some extremely slight quantum influences) take time to pass from agent to patient. What is now happening elsewhere has yet to effectively influence us. Whitehead has put the matter in terms of his doctrine of "the objective immortality of the past." Once an event has occurred it is a permanent item in reality. The "accomplished facts" that constitute the past cannot be deaccomplished or nullified. If they could, historical truth would be impossible or meaningless.
The permanence of the past in every subsequent present is made to some extent concrete by considering memory and perception. What we just felt or thought is still somehow there in our experience by immediate memory, which is different from recollection, that is, recalling to consciousness what for a time has been forgotten. Primary memory is having awareness of an experience before it has been dismissed from consciousness. Perception (at least of things at a distance), as already pointed out, relates us to the past, at most reaching the present with the speed of light. These are the human ways in which the past pervades the present. If these human forms of possessing the past are all that there are, then indeed is the past severely limited in reality.
At this point one of the advantages of believing in God becomes apparent. What in us is extemely partial, feeble retention of the past may in God be complete, ideally vivid and adequate retention. My happy childhood was a gift the world and my parents offered to God. God does not lose what God has once acquired. So what makes history true, if it is true, is the really preserved past as it is in God, who is the final "measure of all things," and notin spite of Protagorasour human mode of thinking and knowing. One of some six reasons I have for belief in God is that it makes intelligible, as nothing else does, how there can be historical truth.
Does life end in death? A book ends with its last sentence or last word; however, the book does not become the mere silence or blank page following that word. The book of life is all its "words" (actions, experiences), and these form an imperishable totality, as adequately retained in the divine life. A conscious life remains that forever, it can never be mere unconsciounsess. But lives (other
than God's), like books and works of art generally, have beginnings and endings, they are finite entities. Only so can they have definite form and distinctiveness. Those who want to go on being themselves forever and yet pass on to additional experiences after death are either asking for unbearable monotony, endless reiterations of the same personality traits, or they are asking for a unique prerogative of God, ability to achieve self-identity through no matter how great and diverse changes and novelties. Unconsciously they either want to be bored to death, so to speak, or to be God. This is the only way I can see the conventional idea of personal immmortality. I am not alone in this. Nevertheless, there must be a good meaning for immortality. Death is not destruction of the reality we have achieved. It is this reality's achievement of final definiteness, the full completion of it as gift to the world and the divine life. (The sense in which death is destructive in particular cases will be discussed later.)
If we now return to the argument, "God who loves us will not destroy us," we shall find several things wrong with this argument. First, it assumes that the past is unreal. Accordingly, what a person is just before death is all that death "destroys." In most cases this would be a rather insignificant loss. Indeed, if we are really beings with an infinite future before us, and in that sense like God, what does death amount to? From an infinite sequence of experiences death deprives us of a small finite number on this earth and substitutes a comparable addition in a perhaps better place. The traditional Western view of immortality, making us infinite in one respect and in that respect rivals of deity, really ruins any sensible perspective on human affairs.
Second, the argument seems to assume, falsely, that it is God who decides when and how we shall die. This, of course, involves the very idea of omnipotence, the absurdity of which has been shown earlier. When and how we die is decided by no single agent, but by innumerable creatures, including ourselves, other people, and countless subhuman agents, such as bacteria, molecules, and the cells of our own bodies, all interacting in partly chance fashion. There is no scapegoat, no single agent who decides the details of creaturely existence. Anthropology shows us clearly how inclined human beings are to find a scapegoat, someone to blame. What is it all but superstition and unwillingness to face reality?
If we are truly mortal animals, then our lives are finite in time as well as in space. What is indeed immortal (the reality of the past) is precisely this finite series of experiences and deeds. Death subtracts not an iota of the lives we have already enjoyed before the moment of death. What death does nullify are the not yet actualized possibilities of living. This can be a cause of grief, and, in the case of homicide, of blame. Just because our careers are finite the loss of many years of significant living can be tragic. Instead of a rounded career, such as many fortunate persons have enjoyed, there is a truncated half career, in which much that has been purposively prepared for can never be realized. We are animals who "look before and after"; we live in part for our earthly futures. To know that at any moment, either by chance or by malicious intention, our careers may come to an end, gives a tragic tinge to our existence.
What is the alternative? Is it that the world should be so absolutely controlled that there would be no chance of premature death? This implies that it makes sense to talk of absolutely controlled individual creatures. In terms of current metaphysics of process an individual is to some extent self-controlled or nothing. Is the alternative that we should be immortal, incapable of having our careers terminated? This means that we would, in one respect, our future, be as infinite as God is. Why then should we not, like God, be ubiquitous in space? It is not enough to say that we are "finite" spatially. We are mere fragments of the spatial whole. And that such fragmentary creatures should have temporally infinite futures is not an immediately reasonable proposition.
Consider now the idea that a loving God would not establish natural laws that make eventually dying a certainty for animals such as we are. God loves us, this I believe. But as what does God love us? I answer, God loves us as what we are, a certain very distinctive species of mortal animal, finite spatially and in careers. We are each divinely loved as rendered individual and definite by this finitude. Moreover, and here I agree with the German philosopher Heidegger and his admirers, it is precisely as finite in this sense that we should love ourselves and our human fellows. As such I have for fifty-four years loved a wife, as such I love a daughter, grandson, and granddaughter. I need no tall stories about
a supernatural kind of animal to love these persons, and many others as well. Nor do I need such stories to love God as the allsurpassing form of love.
Of course the immortality of the past in God does not give people everything they may happen to want. Creatures indistinctly aware of God (even when they verbally call themselves atheists) are also aware of desires that the real world partially frustrates. We have been enjoying a spouse, a son or daughter, a friend, and our capacity for such enjoyment is not exhausted. So we may find it pleasant to think of continuing the relationship after death. However, if we know anything at all about the human condition it is that things do not always go as we might wish. Also we know that in this life the wicked are not alwaysif even usuallypunished in proportion to their misdeeds, nor are the good rewarded in proportion to their good deeds. However, because of freedom in the creatures, without which they would not exist, an element of chance interaction is inevitable; it follows that some disappointments will occur. Nothing in all this appears a sufficient reason to demand a supernatural arrangement according to which, in some unimaginable way, and in spite of the freedom without which there could be neither evil nor good, the eventual satisfaction of all wishes will be guaranteed, or at least the full rewarding and punishment of all good and bad deeds. Freud, I must confess, seems to me to have given the bottom line concerning such an idea when he remarked, ''The world is not a kindergarten." And indeed, even in the best-managed kindergarten some wishes are frustrated.
Revalation, "Infallible" as from God, "Fallible" as Humanly Received.
It seems that there are persons who have better insight into religious truth than most of us do. The extreme way to put this is to say that while most of us guess and grope and wonder, these persons simply and absolutely know. If they write, their words impart absolute truth. The opposite extreme is to say that, in religious matters, no one knows any better than anyone else, that we are all equally at a loss (or else that only the atheists and skeptics are right). Between these extremes there are various gradations. In general it is rational to be suspicious of extremes. Indeed, in the
five topics previously considered, I have been arguing for a view that mediates between extremes. Let us see this in some detail.
In topic number 1 the classical view was the extreme possible version of the assertion of absolute, unsurpassable, and unchangeable divine perfection. The opposite extreme is to deny that any being is strictly unsurpassable or unchangeable in any respect. The view defended was that there is indeed unsurpassable, unchangeable divine perfection, but it is only an abstract aspect of deity, which concretely is self-surpassable yet not surpassable by others, and changeable only for the better. And this view is defended on the ground that the idea of a value in every sense or by every valid criterion unsurpassable is either a contradiction or without any clear meaning.
In topic number 2, one extreme is the assertion of a highest conceivable creative and controlling power that is capable of monopolizing decision-making, of fully determining the details of the world, leaving no matters open for decision by the individuals constituting the world. At the opposite extreme is the denial that there is any highest conceivable or supreme form of power creative of and controlling the world, or the assertion that, given any power, a greater power is conceivable. The mediating position is that there is a highest conceivable or supreme power, creative of and controlling the world, but it does not and could not achieve the absurdity of monopolizing decision-making; rather, it is creative of and controls individuals with some decision-making power of their own, some ability to settle details left undetermined by the highest power. The argument is that only in this form is the highest power either consistently conceivable or worthy of worship.
In topic number 3, one extreme is the idea of a highest conceivable or divine knowledge, which correctly and changelessly surveys events throughout time and in this sense is free from error or ignorance. The opposite extreme is the denial that there is any highest conceivable form of knowledge, free from error or ignorance. The mediating position is that there is a highest conceivable or divine knowledge, free from error or ignorance; however, since events in time do not form a totality fixed once for all, but are an endlessly growing accumulation of additional actualities, to view all time in a changeless fashion would be an erroneous view and not at all the highest conceivable or divine form of knowledge. As the So-
cinians said, once for all, future events, events that have not yet happened, are not there to be known, and the claim to know them could only be false. God does not already or eternally know what we do tomorrow, for, until we decide, there are no such entities as our tomorrow's decisions. Jules Lequier in France, acquainted with the Socinians' doctrine, went over the problem with great care and came to the same conclusion they had. In Germany Fechner and the theologian Pfleiderer, probably independently, reached the same result. In Italy, England, and the United States, somewhat later, a number of thinkers dealt with the same set of problems, reaching similar conclusions.
In topic number 4, one extreme is the classical view that God, though said to be loving, is without anything like emotion, feeling, or sensitivity to the feelings of others and is wholly active ("actus purus," a fine example of a seemingly clear but yet absurd formula) rather than passive in relation to the creatures. Aristotle said it first: God is mover of all things, unmoved by any. At the opposite extreme is the polytheistic view found in Greek mythology whose superhuman beings, the gods, are capable of all sorts of emotional disturbances; they are jealous, easily offended, desirous sexually, and yet immortal. The mediating view is that God is loving in the sense of feeling, with unique adequacy, the feelings of all others, entirely free from inferior emotions (except as vicariously participated in or sympathetically objectified), entirely steadfast in the constancy of the divine care for all, but, in response to the novelties in the creatures, with ever partly new experiences. What never changes is the adequacy of the divine feelings of creaturely feelings; however, adequate response to a world lacking you or me, for example, would not be adequate response to a world with you or me. The contention is that only such a view can do justice to the biblical message at its best, and that, quite apart from the Bible, only such a view is really a coherent, intelligible way of conceiving God in terms of human experience, yet as in principle surpassing not only human nature but any conceivable animal nature, or any positively conceivable super-animal nature, other than God as so conceived.
The first four topics have concerned the nature of God, not in relation to the human species in particular, but in relation to
creatures in general. Topics 5 and 6 introduce special relations between God and the human species.
In topic number 5 one extreme view is that after death a human career goes on forever in some supernatural realm; the other extreme view is that after death a human career is not only terminated but that the entire career, with all its joys and sorrows, all its actual beauty and richness, is reduced to nothing, as though it had never been. Of course no one consistently holds this, but innumerable people vaguely approach such a view in their minds and many a philosopher seems little wiser. The mediating view is that an entire career, with all its concrete values, is an imperishable possession of deity, "to whom all hearts are open and from whom no secrets are hid," including emotional secrets and hidden beauties of a person's inner life. (Strange that the quoted lines from the Anglican prayer book have meant so little to theologians as they evidently did for some centuries.)
We come at last to the sixth topic, revelation. Is it not clear that the two opposites here are, on the one hand, that there is an absolutely infallible, yet humanly accessible, special source of knowledge in religion, and on the other, that there is no source of such knowledge deserving of any trust or confidence whatever? We should remember that scientists do not claim any result of science as absolutely certain as it stands, yet our engineers apply many such results with confidence. Similarly, granted that there are no absolutely infallible sources of religious knowledge, this does not imply that any Tom, Dick, Susan, or Mary is as likely to be of help as the saints or religious founders of history, or that any book you please is as likely to be wise religiously as the Bible, the Buddhist Sutras, or the Bhagavad Gita. Between no revelation and absolutely certain and reliable revelation there can be many gradations.
Of all claims to infallibility, those made by fundamentalist Christians seem the most extreme. Certainly they are the most complex in their implications. With the religion of Islam, for instance, one only has to believe in the divine inspiration of one man as absolutely reliable. But with Christianity there are, for instance, the four authors of the Gospels, none of whom, as I recall, explicitly claims infallibility, several writers of Epistles, the author of the Acts of the Apostles, and many authors of the Old Testament. All must
be supposed infallible, though again they do not clearly claim this status for themselves, so far as I can see. What does it mean to regard authors as incapable of error? The writers must, it seems, be supposed absolutely controlled (when writing) by divine power. This notion of absolute control is the notion of omnipotence criticized under topic 2. I suggest that it is a nonidea. That we can learn about God from a book is one proposition, that we can learn to be infallible about God from a book, or from anything else, is a very different proposition. From an infallible God to an infallible book (to an infallible reader of the book?) is a gigantic step. For many of us it is a step from rational faith to idolatry. No book in a human language written by human hands, translated by human brains into another language, can literally be divine, "the word of God." What we know is that it is the word of human beings about God. The beings may be divinely inspired but they are still human.
In one of the Pauline letters the writer says that not all of his opinions come from Christ. This implies that some of the opinions may be mistaken. In general, claims of infallibility made for the Bible seem stronger than any made in the Bible.
The medieval Christian theologians were in their way scholars. Their view of biblical truth was less naive than the view of some fundamentalists. Not the Scriptures, as interpreted by someone who has merely been taught to read, are definitive of truth but the Scriptures as interpreted by the popes under carefully prescribed conditions. So it comes down finally at a given time to one human being in a special role in one human institution. Having read a Catholic Encyclopedia article on Infallibility, I still find the case for the view a weak one. The argument is that since human beings need a definitive guide in religion; a wise and benevolent God would give them what they need. The counter-argument is that humanity is the species of freely thinking animals who cannot simply set aside their thinking powers, frail and mistake-prone as these are, and directly and infallibly incarnate divine wisdom. What such animals need is to learn methods, as in the sciences or philosophy, of cooperation and mutual correction by which they can at least approach the truth, and methods of give and take, mutual respect, compromise, and kindness, by which they can compose their con-
flicting purposes without unnecessary frustrations and injury to one another.
A notable feature of the classical or medieval view was the belief that in Greek philosophy there had been an approximation, by human reason without special revelation, to the truths of revealed religion. So when the Church Fathers read the Scriptures they expected to find what they took to be the essential principles of the Greek way of thinking, with some additional truths peculiar to the Judaeo-Christian tradition. Biblical texts, admittedly with some qualifications, were expected to have a meaning that made sense in terms of the only philosophy these men knew. Among the especially relevant texts were those that referred to God as perfect or as unchangeable.
In the English Bible there are many occurrences of the words 'perfect,' 'perfectly,' or 'perfection.' Most of these are used to describe, not God, but certain human individuals, either as they are or as they ought to be. They are perfect, not in every conceivable respect, but in ethical or religious goodness, faithfulness in living by the religious code. Perfection in physical beauty, skill, or worldly knowledge is simply not in question. Thus the all-round metaphysical meaning of absolute value is not intended. How is it with the rare uses of 'perfect' or 'unchanging' to describe God? In every case the context implies something other than the Greek metaphysical idea of "in no respect capable of change or increase." Thus, the Malachi passage (3:6), "I Jehovah change not," where 'perfect' does not occur, clearly asserts the absolutely reliable, unwavering goodwill of Jehovah toward the people of Israel. (Turn again to me and I shall . . ."). Similarly, "Ye shall be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect" (Matt. 5:48) is far from the use of words to indicate an absolute difference between divine and human forms of being, the one simply perfect, the other simply imperfect.
God, to be sure, is in goodwill entirely, always, and without possibility of failure beyond criticism, while we are so only inconstantly and more or less. The essential point concerns, not change as such, in ethically neutral or positive, as well as negative, respects, but only change from good to bad (or mediocre) and back again. The metaphysical question is not raised. Biblical authors were not
metaphysicians. But the Church scholars, for instance Augustine, steeped in Greek philosophy, looked for metaphysics everywhereand thought they had found it. Yet in fact the concept of supreme or divine reality as "unmoved mover" (Aristotle) was not a topic in New or Old Testaments.
"Without shadow of turning" (James 1:17) is preceded and followed by discussions of ehtical matters and of God as the One from whom all good things come. The beneficence of deity is thus the topic. Again this is not metaphysics, or a general definition of God. Spinoza was right, the Bible is no treatise in philosophical theology. The Malachi passage even suggests that, without prejudice to the divine goodness, there is divine change, for if Israel returns to fulfilling the divine commandments God will correspondingly, that is, will change in ways entirely appropriate to the change in Israel. Many parts of the Bible, interpreted reasonably, imply this.
For the Church Fathers divine knowledge eternally, timelessly surveys all events in time, whether past or future to us. Much in the Old Testament seems to imply a quite different view, and no Biblical passage, I believe, definitely and unambiguously implies a completely unchanging divine survey of all time. The Biblical scholar Oscar Cuhlman has dealt with this matter. The new theism can come closer to biblical ideas than was possible in the Dark or Middle Ages.
Classical theology was a compromise between a not-very-wellunderstood Greek philosophy and a not-very- scholarly interpretation of sacred writings. Omnipotence as many construed it is not asserted (indeed it is denied) by Plato and Aristotle, nor is it unambiguously affirmed in Scriptures. As for immortality (as the denial that a human career terminates at death) Plato held the doctrine but Aristotle did not. Moreover, Plato's (or Socrates') argument for his view on this point is not considered impressive by very many philosophers today. In most of the Old Testament the view is not affirmed but by implication denied.
The classical view of revelation is not convincing to very many scientists, philosophers, or humanists of our time. As we learn more about the claims of the non-Christian, non-Judaeic religions, it becomes ever harder to see how the extreme doctrine of infallible sacred writings can be sound. To insist upon that doctrine imposes
a fearful burden on our democracy. It was not an accident that the founders of our republic were far from fundamentalist Christians. Jefferson, Franklin, Ethan Allen, Lincoln, and still others were believers in God but not in the infallibility of any book or human institution. The same is true of Emerson, our great poet whose prose was more poetic than most verse. It holds also for Peirce, James, and Royce, three of our greatest philosophers. Is it desirable that religion should seem more and more an affair of the intellectually undistinguished or mediocre?
The Principle of Dual Transcendence
The first four of the mistakes dealt with above are "one-sided" views in that they seek to distinguish God from all else by putting God on one side of a long list of contraries: finite-infinite, temporaleternal, relative-absolute, contingent-necessary, physical-spiritual, and still others. But this is a species of idolatry, implying that what we worship is infinity, eternity, absoluteness, necessity, mere spirituality, or disembodied mind. But these are empty abstractions. So is love, if you only mean the mere quality of lovingness. What is really worshipful is the love which is infinite in whatever sense that is an excellence and is finite in whatever sense that, too, is an excellence. God contrasts with creatures, not as infinite with finite, but as infinite-and-finite (both in uniquely excellent ways, beyond all possible rivalry or relevant criticism) contrasts with the merely fragmentary and only surpassably excellent creatures. God contrasts with creatures, not as the merely absolute contrasts with the relative, but as the absolute-and-relative in uniquely excellent ways contrasts with the creatures as neither relative nor absolute, except in senses in which they are surpassable by others. God is similarly both eternal and temporal in all-surpassing ways; God alone has an eternal individuality, meaning unborn and undying, and God alone has enjoyed the entire past and will enjoy all the future. He-She is both physical and spiritual, and the divine body (see the next chapter) is all-surpassing and all-inclusive of the creaturely bodies, which are to God as cells to a supercellular organism. His-Her
spirit embraces all the psychical there is with all-surpassing, unstinted love.
The idea of omnipotence, as usually construed, contradicts dual transcendence; for it means that God is wholly active, independent, or absolute in relation to the creatures and that the creatures are wholly passive in relation to God. It means that God does either everything or nothing. If everything, then the creatures do nothing and are nothing. The divine excellence is a uniquely excellent way of interacting with others, of being active and passive in relation to them. We do things to God by deciding our own being, with necessary help from God, as setting limits to the disorder inherent in freedom, and as inspiring us to take our place in the cosmic order as best we can. God loves us as we partly make ourselves to be, not simply as we are divinely made to be. To say that a lover is uninfluenced by a partly self-made loved one is nonsense or contradiction. Omnipotence was often taken in a way that amounts to that contradiction.
The formula "dual transcendence" is mine. The basic idea is in Whitehead and still others, but in some respects less sharply formulated. The criticism, made for instance by a conservative English theologian, that it is contradictory to attribute both finitude and infinity, for example, to the same deity is nothing but the neglect of an elementary logical truth, which is that the description of something as both P and not-P (where P is some predicate or property) is contradictory only if the predicate and its negation are applied in "the same respect" to the something in question. And dual transcendence does not make or permit such an application. Moreover, it offers a definite explanation of how the difference in the two respects is possible. The absolute, infinite side is abstract and concerns the divine potentiality or capacity to have values, while the finitude or relativity concerns the divine actuality. If you or I had made different decisions, God would have enjoyed (or suffered) these other decisions. Anything that could be actual God could divinely have, but what God actually has depends partly on creaturely decisions. This is the social structure of existence. The primacy of love means that there is no possible value that any being could have simply in and by itself, or simply by its own decision.
Aristotle said that the abstract or universal is real only in the concrete and individual. But he failed to realize how abstract and merely universal was his idea of God, defined as unmoved mover changelessly thinkingthinking what? The divine thinking, Aristotle said, was simply thinking thinking itself. Particular things or individuals, such as you or me, are not worth knowing about. Only eternal essences, universals, are worth knowing. And so if we know both the universal essence human, and this or that particular human person, we know what God does and something more besides. The Greek fascination with abstractions and disparagement of the concrete could not have been better displayed than in this paradox. Of course few theologians, least of all Christian theologians, could so disparage the worth of individuals when even a sparrow is said in the Gospels to be of interest to the Heavenly Father. But the theologians failed, on their part, to realize what Aristotle had seen very clearly, that if, contrary to Aristotle's opinion, God is aware of particular individuals and their careers, then the entire fullness of reality must be embraced in divine knowledge. But this concrete fullness is not eternal, it receives new items moment by moment. Also some at least of the items are contingent, results of free decisions, divine or creaturely, or both. Hence it will no longer do to hold that God is exclusively eternal and necessary, rather than also temporal and contingent. Like it or not, the door to the doctrine of dual transcendence has been opened.
We do not contradict ourselves if we say that a certain person is unchanging in being always (reasonably) "kind," although of course in concrete particulars responding differently to take changing circumstances into account. The idealized form of this contrast can be applied to God, who alone can unfailingly conform to the ideal of kindness.
That there are really different aspects of the divine nature, as dual transcendence implies, will be rejected by some thinkers on the ground that God is "simple," a traditional doctrine. But as used against dual transcendence, this argument would be purely question- begging. God is both simple and complex, the one in abstract, the other in concrete aspects. For instance, the divine cognitive infallibility is not really different (illustrating simplicity) from the divine ethical infallibility. But the aesthetic value actualized
in God is no mere infallibility of the divine aesthetic capacity to respond. Aesthetic value, unlike merely cognitive or ethical value, depends in part upon what is responded to. It is concrete. There is a real difference (illustrating complexity) between the absolutely unsurpassable cognitive perfection of God's knowing, or the absolute rightness of the divine decision-making about the creatures, and the beauty of the actual, cosmic poem (the ''verses" of which are partly self-decided) as divinely enjoyed.
Paul Tillich's "God is being but not a being," that is, universal but not individual, violates dual transcendence and is open to the objections to be made against all such violations, that they either make God an empty abstraction, or else make Him-Her a fetish, a merely finite, relative, and changeable individual . A merely finite God of course will not do. The only infinity some of us can see as making sense we do attribute to God, but not the meaningless, contradictory, or empty mere infinity of the traditional view.
Since the fifth and sixth mistakes are not about the uniquely exalted nature or function of God but about the special nature or status of our human species, dual transcendence does not apply to these latter topicsunless our species is indeed transcendent, an infinite exception in nature, supernatural in the sense in which God is. And that is precisely the issue between the traditional view and the new view of immortality. Like all animals we have finite careers between birth and death; but the old view of immortality holds that we have infinite careers after death. This is an extreme view. The opposite extreme is that after death our careers become less than finite, they become reduced to zero. As corpses we have no sequence of live experiences, finite or infinite. We are dead and unconscious. What was something is now nothing. Yet how can the same reality be both something and nothing? The modest but positive view of immortality is that our years of aliveness will always be just that.
Ask yourself, what is Julius Caesar now? That Caesar is "not now alive" means that while Caesar's experience and action are still having influence on our present world and ourselves, we and our world are having no influence on Caesar. Our contemporaries are those we can interact with; our ancestors still do things to us, but never can we do anything to them. This is the meaning of the
will always be just that. The full value of this can be appreciated only by a believer in God, for whom the whole past is as vividly still enjoyed as a second ago is for us, or rather, more vividly than that.
The question of revelation also involves two extremes or one-sided views, with the truth intermediate. God, who is infallible, communicates with us, who are fallible. The message sender cannot err, but the message receiver can err. Result, the message as received is neither absolute possession of truths about God nor absolute nonpossession of such truths. It is fallible, suggestive, vague, but still genuine possession of more or less definite truth. It is a help to our weak, uncertain, partial awareness of what God is. To know God as certainly and distinctly as God knows God is a divine privilege, not a human one. Let us not pretend to be other than human.
Our distinction, compared to the other animals, is not that we have infinite careers while they have finite ones, or absolute knowledge of God while they cannot have any sense of God. It is that we alone enjoy the conscious understanding of our finitude, we alone definitely distinguish ourselves now from ourselves a year ago and yet see a partial identity between the two selves, we alone can definitely plan our careers, relate them (however inadequately) to the career of the human species and to God; we alone can be conscious in this life that after death our lives as lived will everlastingly remain still vividly real to God in whatever beauty they had. We alone can have definite thoughts about God and can reasonably believe that these thoughts are approximations to at least partial truths about God. Our superiority to the other animals is not absolute (only God is absolutely exalted above others), but ours is an immense relative superiority, as the mass of all human poetry ever written is immense compared to the no-poetry-at-all (unless in some extremely attenuated sense) of the other animals. Or consider the mass of human music (during who knows how
many thousands, perhaps tens or hundreds of thousands, of years) compared to the much simpler music of birds and those few mammals who can be said to sing (gibbons, humpbacked whales, and a few others), not to mention the extremely limited singing of insects, frogs, toads, and a few lizards. Our superiority, viewed soberly, is sufficient, without our feeling it necessary to resort to fairy tales to enhance it. Consider the vast distance between any knowledge the chimpanzees could be said to have of the world around them and our sciences, surveying the cosmos over billions of light years and back to the Big Bang. How conceited do we have to be to try to claim more preeminence than that which we know of ourselves in this life?
The supernatural is real; but the supernatural is God, not humanity. In the supernatural reality of God, unbounded in space, unborn and undying, the bounded, fragmentary reality of each of us is imperishably included, a definite quantum in the Life which is all-in-all, or in which "we live and move and have our being" (Acts of the Apostles: 17, 28).