Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Geach on worshipping the right God


In his essay “On Worshipping the Right God” (available in his collection God and the Soul), Catholic philosopher Peter Geach argues that:

[W]e dare not be complacent about confused and erroneous thinking about God, in ourselves or in others.  If anybody’s thoughts about God are sufficiently confused and erroneous, then he will fail to be thinking about the true and living God at all; and just because God alone can draw the line, none of us is in a position to say that a given error is not serious enough to be harmful. (p. 112)

How harmful?  Well, if a worshipper is not even thinking about the true God, then he is not really worshipping the true God, but something else.  That’s pretty serious.  (I would add to Geach’s concern the consideration that atheistic objections to erroneous conceptions of God can lead people falsely to conclude that the notion of God as such is suspect.  That’s pretty serious too.)

Geach takes the word “God” to function as a descriptive term rather than a proper name.  It is in Geach’s view more like “the President of the United States” than it is like “Barack Obama.”  It’s not clear how important this claim is to his argument, however, given that a key illustration in the essay involves a voter who is confused about who Harold Macmillan is, and “Harold Macmillan” is proper name.  The example is dated, but we can restate Geach’s point using a more up-to-date one.  Consider someone who says he supports Hillary Clinton for the next presidential election, on the grounds that she is (so he thinks) a staunch opponent of feminism, abortion, and “same-sex marriage.”  His reason for thinking this is that the title of her book It Takes a Village and Other Lessons Children Teach Us, which he has not read, is (he supposes) evidence that she advocates small town, conservative family values.  Suppose that while he correctly describes Hillary Clinton as the husband of Bill Clinton and the recent Secretary of State, he otherwise has only other hopelessly confused beliefs about her -- that her being Obama’s Secretary of State involved her getting him coffee and taking dictation, that she had once enthusiastically pledged to “stand by my man, like Tammy Wynette,” etc.

Geach would say that such a person does not really support Hillary Clinton at all, but rather some other person who exists only in his mind.  Similarly, Geach says, a man who says he is in love with a certain woman, with whom he has only the slightest acquaintance and about whom he has all sorts of grave misconceptions, is not really in love with her but only with some fantasy woman.  By the same token, where the conceptions of God associated with two forms of worship are “extremely different,” then “it ought logically to be… a matter of doubt whether both forms of worship can lay hold of the true God” (p. 112, emphasis in the original).

This is so in Geach’s view even if false beliefs about God are associated with important true beliefs:

[E]ven if a natural theologian correctly concludes to the existence of a God with attributes ABC, and those attributes do in fact belong solely to the one true God, we cannot be sure that in worshipping the God whose existence he has concluded to he is worshipping the true God.  For along with these attributes ABC the natural theologian may ascribe to his God others which are not those of the true God.  Thus, he may like Spinoza falsely believe that God produces all possible creatures, by a natural necessity of fully manifesting his infinite power; or, like many moderns, he may falsely believe that God needed to create a universe full of creatures in order that they, however inferior to him, might be there to love and be loved by -- much as a lonely old woman crowds her house with cats.  Was Spinoza, and are these moderns, worshipping the true God, or rather worshipping some vain phantasm…? (p. 114)

But how many errors, and which ones, suffice to lead such a worshipper away from the true God?  Geach doesn’t claim to know, but thinks we needn’t settle that question in order to see that the problem is a serious one.  About the question of whether Spinoza or the modern theologian Geach describes really worships the true God, Geach writes:

It is not for us to answer such questions; enough to notice that they arise; and there is no reason to doubt that sometimes a natural theologian’s errors may mean that he does not lay hold of the true God in his mind and heart at all. (p. 114)

Catholic practice surely supports Geach’s position.  A vivid example is provided by the 2001 decision of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith to regard Mormon baptisms as invalid.  Though doctrinal errors are not usually sufficient to invalidate baptisms performed by non-Catholics, and though Mormon baptisms involve the use of what on the surface seems to be a Trinitarian formula, the CDF decided that the Mormon conception of God is so radically different from the Catholic one that the words do not in this case truly invoke the Trinity at all.  (Notice that this is the case even though the Mormon language is derived from the New Testament.  It thus seems that as far as the Church is concerned, the problem cannot be solved by opting, in the theory of reference, for a causal account over a descriptivist account.)

The Church has also made binding certain views about God’s existence and attributes, sometimes to the point of anathematizing dissent.  That certainly shows that the Church regards errors about these matters as extremely dangerous. 

The relevance to the dispute between classical theism on the one hand, and the various forms of “theistic personalism” or “neo-theism” on the other (process theology, open theism, etc.), is obvious.  In particular, from a Catholic point of view it cannot be emphasized too strongly that the propositions that God is simple, immutable, eternal, and knows even the future free actions of his rational creatures, are all de fide teachings of the Church.  These are, of course, attributes that “theistic personalists” or “neo-theists” have either denied or seriously modified. 

I am not saying, and I don’t think that either Geach or the Church would say, that no one plausibly labeled a “theistic personalist” or “neo-theist” is really worshipping the true God.  The reasons are that some degree of error is consistent with worship of the true God, and there is some flexibility in notions like simplicity, eternity, etc.  But there are limits to the degree of error that is consistent with true worship, even if it can in some cases be difficult in practice to know when those limits have been reached.

The point is that, as Geach says, “we dare not be complacent” about the question.  It matters whether a man loves a real woman or only a fantasy, and whether he votes for a real candidate or only one he has constructed in his mind -- even if it is difficult to know in some cases whether the object of his love or his political support is real or imaginary.  How much more does it matter, to true worship and to sound apologetics, whether one’s conception of God is correct?

75 comments:

BenYachov said...

Fun fact about Mormon baptisms. Their radical anthropomorphic theism might not have been a hindrance where it not for two facts. One, the Mormons(the Utah Salt Lake City based one) unlike the Protestants are a monolithic religion with some type of visible head on Earth who helps serve as God's mouth piece. Now the Pope doesn't claim to be a Prophet but both the Mormon Prophet and Pope under certain circumstances officially speak for their Faiths & what they say trumps what the individual member subjectively believes.

Two, the Mormon Church teaches the "ordinance" of Baptism was given by Father God to Adam in the beginning in Eden & restored & reinstituted by Jesus Christ. The Catholic Church OTOH teaches Christian Baptism originates with Christ as the sign of the New Covenant. So even if the Mormons had a more orthodox view of God it seems no Mormon intends to convey the later Baptism of Christ taught by theCatholic church. Since we would presume your average faithful Mormon would at least implicitly want to follow what they believe their church wants them to believe. Protestants have no body to speak for them so we assume at minimum they intend to convey the sign of the New covenant. even if they have a lot of other heterodox views of God and Baptism(i.e denial of Baptismal regeneration, antipedobaptism etc).


In ancient times once in the 5th century & in the 6th an Arian heretic was admitted to the Church without re-baptism. The Pope's ruled their original baptism where valid.

Oh & one of the Gnu trolls is back.

G. Kyle Essary said...

Thanks for this Ed,
I've personally gone back and forth on this issue. As someone who strongly values and advocates orthodoxy in teaching, I've often struggled putting certain apologists before my students due to their non-typical beliefs.

For instance, since apologetics of the philosophical kind seem to be dominated by theistic personalists, am I willing to suggest a theistic personalist to my students? But they deny the vast majority of the Christian tradition...

What if that same theistic personalist also denies divine timelessness? Do I still put them before my students when they are so clearly at odds with tradition both philosophical and Christian?

What if this same person questions God's aseity and denies divine simplicity? Both are clearly the positions held by the tradition. What if they are a Molinist?

Obviously, William Lane Craig is each of these. He's far outside of the historic Christian tradition on many major theological issues, but is still the most well-known apologist today.

Do I tell my students to watch his debates or do I just put books by Davies, McCabe, you and others in front of them (as well as Christian theologians) and hope they see the beauty of classical theism? It's tough.

Daniel Smith said...

I'm a bit of a simpleton in matters of faith, and I think that the most important quality we can possess when it comes to truth and error is an openness to correction.

I think many "simple folk" believe in an erroneous concept of God - but they love him with all their heart and would gladly accept him any way he is finally revealed to them. (I'm thinking after death here.) Whereas a lot of us "smart folk" will go into the afterlife convinced we knew the correct answers all along and - when confronted with revealed truth - might just dismiss it as obvious error.

Think "Pharisee vs. Tax collector" to get a sense of what I'm getting at.

Scott said...

Likewise, it's possible that some people who deny that they believe in God may do so anyway.

Raymond Smullyan somewhere tells a story about (I think) Arthur Rubinstein, who, when asked whether he believed in God, thought for a moment and replied, "No. You see, what I believe in is something much greater!"

Now, I don't know what Rubinstein actually had in mind, but at the very least the idea of "God" he was rejecting was pretty clearly something than which a greater (or so he thought) could be conceived. So it's possible that whatever he didn't believe in wasn't really God anyway—and also that whatever he did believe in was.

Scott said...

(Off topic: Hi, Neil. I'm Scott Ryan; we had some online correspondence a decade or so ago. Good to see you again, even if "see" isn't exactly the right word.)

Aquinas3000 said...

The Moslem issue is definitely a big application to which this issue applies since the Church seems to have made a statement about it in Lumen Gentium. That said, it seems to me that we need to make a distinction appealing between natural theology and supernatural theology which one can view as a formal but not a material difference in object. For instance, say I am a philosopher who is currently agnostic about God's existence. I sit at my desk and reason through a metaphysical argument for his existence. I see the force of the argument and that I cannot deny it. I then proceed to look over the arguments that carry forward the implications to God having such and such attributes. I'm not a theist. Now surely such a person has reasoned to the existence of God i.e the real God even if he isn't yet a Christian (and let us say he is aware of Christian claims since he hasn't been living his life under a rock). I would say that the object of his speculation is materially the same God but not formally i.e he has not reached God as author of the supernatural order and revealer of wisdom. So that they don't accept the Trinity is not to the point.

It is also interesting that the catechism of Pius X expressly distinguishes muslims from idolators (which they must be if they worship a false god).

It is also worth looking at the ending of Leo XIII's encyclical Satis Cognitum where he says, after having already appealed to non Catholic Christians:

"And with the same yearning Our soul goes out to those whom the foul breath of irreligion has not entirely corrupted, and who at least seek to have the true God, the Creator of Heaven and earth, as their Father. Let such as these take counsel with themselves, and realize that they can in no wise be counted among the children of God, unless they take Christ Jesus as their Brother, and at the same time the Church as their mother."

Aquinas3000 said...

That should have been "I am NOW a theist" not "I am not a theist"

Joe K. said...

Peter Geach was Elizabeth Anscombe's husband, right? Is, I guess. He's actually still alive apparently (97!). They must have had some interesting dinner conversations. Thanks for the post anyway; I've always wanted to read more by him.

Bob Drury said...

In the 2008 presidential campaign, the question was: "Who is Barack Obama?" In his slogan, "Hope and Change", he was all things to all men. I would argue that most theists do not believe in the God, atheists do not believe in.

rank sophist said...

Daniel,

I think the biggest difference between classical theism and theistic personalism is that classical theism acknowledges that any description of God will fall infinitely short. Theistic personalists, to me, are the ones who have rejected mystery and correction.

James Cunningham said...

A very minor error:

“Suppose that while he correctly describes Hillary Clinton as the husband of Bill Clinton and the recent Secretary of State […]”

At any rate, I’m getting flashbacks to bad 90s-era jokes ...

Glenn said...

There are some current bad jokes, too. Such as that the term 'husband' obviously is employed metonymically.

Olsenator said...

I find this interesting coming from a protestant perspective. It seems that the reality of sin is gonna make our picture or concept of God to some degree wrong. I should probably step up and try to know some educated Catholics in person, because all i know are Protestants.

One of the biggest gripes i have in my churches are the forms of worship. It seems like singing is the litmus test of worship. As if it's the end all be all statement of truth. On the same note, there are many famous protestant worship artists that get some flack for having serious doctrinal issues. Jesus Culture is one of them, but i don't know if the claims are accurate.

It makes me hesitate to sing because sometimes i don't want to condone the lyrics being sang. Worship is serious business, so i don't take it lightly or simplistically.

This blog seems like a good primer for deeper thought.

Daniel Smith said...

rank sophist: I think the biggest difference between classical theism and theistic personalism is that classical theism acknowledges that any description of God will fall infinitely short. Theistic personalists, to me, are the ones who have rejected mystery and correction.

Well I meant it in a more personal, individual sense. Every group consists of individuals - some of whom are unbending and sure of themselves and others who are more open to correction. I think this is true in both camps.

There are people who truly love God with all their heart, are filled with the Holy Spirit, pray constantly, give of themselves unselfishly - in short, they exhibit all the fruits Jesus told us to look for - and yet they've never heard of "classical theism" or "theistic personalism". I'd venture that most Christians throughout history fall into this category. I'd also hazard a guess that they'd pretty much ALL believe whichever of those philosophies God revealed to be true (if either). They just love and trust God - period, end of story.

Does God reject their prayers because they don't know philosophy? I seriously doubt it. In fact I would guess that the opposite is true - that those who pride themselves in their true belief (and yet do not exhibit the fruit of the spirit) are more likely to find the heavens closed to their prayers.

Jesus told us to become like children. Paul said that not many wise and not many philosophers are chosen. Look again at the parable of the Pharisee and the Tax collector - it was the one who beat his breast and described himself a "sinner" who God justified - not the one who could point out all of his correct beliefs and actions.

I think God is more concerned with a right heart than a right head.

Anonymous said...

rank sophist,

I would consider myself a theistic personalist - at least as far as I understand the term - and I don't ever discount the mystery of God or correction from him (either directly or though some appointed body or individual). What I'm not sure about is that if my belief in a God who can be know through the persons of Jesus and the Holy Spirit puts us at odds.

Olsernator said...

Daniel Smith said:

"Does God reject their prayers because they don't know philosophy? I seriously doubt it. In fact I would guess that the opposite is true - that those who pride themselves in their true belief (and yet do not exhibit the fruit of the spirit) are more likely to find the heavens closed to their prayers."

I'd say that you're right insofar as that they have an extremely minimal amount of knowledge of God (in philosophical terms). I would say that a lot of Mormons are truly dedicated and make more out of their social impact than some Evangelicals. I think those that are more concerned with reading Scripture and acting on the commands of Jesus will not want or need theological ideas that require complex philosophical inquiry.

Glenn said...

Daniel,

I think God is more concerned with a right heart than a right head.

1. Sure. But the imagination of man's heart is evil from his youth (Gen 8:21). Now what?

2. More specifically, how does the evil imagination of a man's heart lead to a heart that is right? After all, There is a way which seemeth right unto a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death (Prov. 14:12), and it certainly does happen that they hearkened not, nor inclined their ear, but walked in the counsels and in the imagination of their evil heart, and went backward, and not forward (Jer. 7:24). So, it doesn't seem that a 'frontal lobotomy' necessarily constitutes an improvement in the matter.

3. And what about, Yea, if thou criest after knowledge, and liftest up thy voice for understanding; If thou seekest her as silver, and searchest for her as for hid treasures; Then shalt thou understand the fear of the Lord, and find the knowledge of God (Prov. 2:2-5)?

Scott said...

Surely the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector is about humility vs. pride, not about "correct belief" of any sort; nor does the Pharisee "point out all," or even any, of his "correct beliefs."

But to whatever extent humility involves "correct belief" about the relationship between God and oneself, it was surely the tax collector whose beliefs were "correct," and the Pharisee went away unjustified not in spite of his "correct beliefs" but because of his incorrect ones.

Timotheos said...

Hmm... The article reminded me of a passage in G.K. Chesterton's Thomas Aquinas. In the book, Chesterton discuss a dean Igne who was apparently the dean of St. Paul's at the time. The Dean objected to the whole idea of a beginning of the universe, on account of the fact that Go might end it. At about the same time, some of the more expert physicists were concluding that the universe was going to come to an end. Dean Igne, who had of course been lecturing the orthodox over accepting the findings of science, responded by wailing aloud and practically telling the scientists to go away and discover something else. Because, and this is the kicker, "what would God have to amuse him, if the universe ceased to exist?" Chesterton concluded that this shows just how much the modern world needs Aquinas, but even then he found it strange saying, "I can hardly conceive any educated man, let alone such a learned man, believing in God at all without assuming that God contains in Himsellf every perfection including eternal joy; and does not require the solar system to entertain Him like a circus."

Thoughts anyone?

Timotheos said...

Ooops... Typo
Go can't end the world but God can.

Ryan said...

Feser wrote:

"How much more does it matter, to true worship and to sound apologetics, whether one’s conception of God is correct?"

I mostly agree with your (and thus Geach's) points about the importance of maintaining a proper (i.e., at least philosophically-speaking, classical) mental understanding of God's Being; however, I wonder whether concrete practice* might drastically outweigh or even override what you've here accurately addressed as mere conception.

If Average Joe attends Adoration, rightly meditates on the Passion and prays to God -- Who, as you know, at the time will be residing in the flesh before him -- yet he's also stuck intellectually with some anthropomorphic notion of a so-called "deity" floating around the back of his mind, I think Joe may still arguably be worshiping Our Lord. In other words, in such a case he'd nonetheless be praising, and therefore to some extent pleasing, the living, incarnate Word of God, in spite of the fact that, yes, whenever he's apart from God's substantial presence, say, if he's in his room thinking confusedly just about "God the Father," then indeed, he's usually failing to do so and in fact likely offending his real Father in heaven. But then objectively-good worship probably can transcend and perhaps undo any real harm that would result from the somewhat vague, conceptually-mistaken intentional world of an ordinary layman at Mass (and maybe also, if the situation be so dire, the philosophically-misguided "theistic" personalist who happens to be kneeling reverently before the Blessed Sacrament).

...or no, not at all? (Because, after all, as I can always later point out with a qualifying, face-saving, cheeky disclaimer at the end, this is simply a blog combox, and I am just puttin' it out there. If you like it, you can take it; if you don't, send it right back, of course.) But surely I'm not the only one concerned enough to consider, or worried enough to wonder about the subjective vs. objective laudatory merits of our hypothetical, Host-consuming informal heretic! So, anyone, any further ideas?


* Namely, substantial, immediately-present, and often very tangible Catholic worship, such as typically occurs during the Most Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, or Eucharistic Adoration/Communion.

Timotheos said...

On the question of the "average joe" conception of God, we need to be careful not get too stringent for our requirements about weither or not someone 'really' believes in God or not.

For instance, imagine a young child who is learning how to add. Now the child may be easily able to understand that 5+6=11. But if you then asked him what 7+4 equals, he might not realize that it would also equal 11. Does this mean that he didn't know that 5+6=11? Just because he didn't fully realize what that truth meant doesn't mean he somehow didn't "really" believe it or didn't believe it for "rational" reasons.

Neil Parille said...

Scott - Yes, nice to see you again.

Robert said...

How much more does it matter, to true worship and to sound apologetics, whether one’s conception of God is correct?

This seems like an empirical question. A seemingly unanswerable one at that.

Glenn said...

Robert,

>> How much more does it matter, to true worship and to
>> sound apologetics, whether one’s conception of God is
>> correct?

> This seems like an empirical question. A seemingly
> unanswerable one at that.

Well, we can at least try.

1. How much more...?

a) Who says it's more? I say it's less.
b) Not less, but only as much and no more.
c) More, but not much more.
d) More than not much more, but not much more than that.
e) A lot more.
f) A whole lot more.
g) More than can be properly imagined or fully appreciated.

2. The question, of course, is not meant to be an empirical question--at least not any more than is this rhetorical question meant to be:

"If it is wise of one to not walk barefooted on broken glass, how much more wise is it of one to not jump up and down on broken glass when barefooted?"

- - - - -

(3. But who can tell? In this day and age, some ambitious person lusting after the Ig Noble prize might so cleverly word his grant application that he succeeds in procuring the funds he needs in order to conduct that study or those experiments which would enable him to accurately report to the 7th decimal point, and thus settle once and for all, precisely how much more wise it would be of one to not jump up and down on broken glass when barefooted.)

Glenn said...

(I didn't say that, did I? I sure did. s/b "7th decimal place".)

Daniel Smith said...

Glenn: 1. Sure. But the imagination of man's heart is evil from his youth (Gen 8:21). Now what?

But I did not say that man is born with a right heart did I? In fact, a right heart, according to Jesus, is one that acknowledges its own sinfulness.

3. And what about, Yea, if thou criest after knowledge, and liftest up thy voice for understanding; If thou seekest her as silver, and searchest for her as for hid treasures; Then shalt thou understand the fear of the Lord, and find the knowledge of God (Prov. 2:2-5)?

You seem to think that contradicts something I wrote. It doesn't. Notice the way one aquires knowledge though: if one "criest after", "liftest up thy voice for", "seekest" and "searchest for"... this means knowledge is not in us - but comes from outside - from God. Again, the implication is that WE don't have the answers, therefore WE need to seek God. Admitting you just might be wrong is the first step.

Daniel Smith said...

Scott: Surely the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector is about humility vs. pride, not about "correct belief" of any sort; nor does the Pharisee "point out all," or even any, of his "correct beliefs."

Well, it is not spelled out in that parable, but the picture of the Pharisees painted throughout the gospels was one of religious pride. They insisted that Jesus was not the Christ because he was from Nazareth, and he ate with sinners, and didn't wash his hands, and he healed on the Sabbath, and other such things they considered "incorrect".

But to whatever extent humility involves "correct belief" about the relationship between God and oneself, it was surely the tax collector whose beliefs were "correct," and the Pharisee went away unjustified not in spite of his "correct beliefs" but because of his incorrect ones.

Yes, that's true. Another difference was that the tax collector didn't know his belief was "correct" he was just being honest before God. The Pharisee, OTOH, just knew he was righteous.

If admitting you're wrong is correct, then I don't want to be right!

(OK that was a silly attempt at humor - don't over-analyze that one people!)

Edward Feser said...

Daniel,

There were three main propositions put forward in the post:

1. Errors in one's conception of God can be extensive enough and/or serious enough that one's worship ends up (inadvertently of course) being directed at something other than the true God.

2. Errors in one's conception of God can be extensive enough and/or serious enough that one ends up (again, inadvertently of course) opening theism up to criticisms that don't actually apply to theism per se.

3. Therefore, errors in one's conception of God can be a serious matter, something about which we ought not be complacent.

Now, (1) and (2) are either true or false, and (3) either follows or it doesn't. As far as I can tell you haven't denied that (1) and (2) are true and that (3) follows.

Certainly, pointing out that a person can be sinfully prideful in his superior philosophical or theological knowledge is completely irrelevant to whether (1), (2), or (3) are true. The fact that a person can be prideful about having a college degree, or a good job, or good health, doesn't in the least show that there is anything per se wrong with having a college degree, or a good job, or good health, or that these are not, all things being equal, much better to have than not to have. Neither does the fact that someone can be prideful about his philosophical or theological knowledge show that there is anything wrong with having it or that it is, all things being equal (and especially given the considerations summarized in (1) and (2)), much better to have than not to have.

So why bring up, in this context, the dangers of pride in one's knowledge? Is having special theological or philosophical knowledge especially likely to result in sinful pride? Why? Surely there is also an opposite kind of pride -- the sort of pride involved in thinking that by de-emphasizing the importance of philosophy and theology, one is more spiritually sensitive, or kind-hearted, or Christ-like, or more in tune with the good old simple Sunday-go-to-meetin' Christian folk who don't need no fancy book-learnin' but only their Bibles, etc.

"I thank you Lord, that I am not like other men -- prideful in their philosophical and theological knowledge, and contemptuous of those who don't have it!"

Pharisaism comes in all colors. And neither Geach nor I presumed to say anything about the spiritual state of those who inadvertently hold to what we would regard as philosophical or theological errors.

Anonymous said...

I have a few ruminations on this fascinating subject, if I may.

Surely, we might first say that our ultimate goal as Christians is, through God's grace to reverse the fall. That is, our goal is nothing short of perfection - a union or theosis with God, in this life or the next.

If we leave all questions of pride aside, and discuss the issue, as far as possible, from an objective position, I think we can say that perfection and theosis involve the whole being - not just the ego and one's sentiment but the Soul, Spirit, and Intellect as well. One's knowledge, in such a state, being all it can be, and one possessing all virtues.

The average church goer has not achieved this. This does not mean he is not saved, but it does mean his spiritual journey is incomplete. What could be discussed is the role of tradition, doctrine, and sacraments in providing the average church goer balance for any sentimental or intellectually lacking devotion. A Mormon lacks these entirely. His devotion having next to no link to Christ's revelation and, unlike, for example the Muslim, lacking much of a traditional, anti-modern mindset, and lacking anything close to a theologically and philosophically correct attitude means the Mormon has a dubious spirituality.

But, also, as useful as it may be discursive or dialetic knowledge of theology and philosophy alone is only a pale shadow of the knowledge of the perfect man. A beginning of, and support for (though not the only one), this knowledge though it may be, we are ultimately called to, and made for, an inner, Intellectual or Noetic knowledge that culminates in the Beatific Vision itself. One's whose theological knowledge is largely just of written theology has a long way on his spiritual journey to go.


David B Marshall said...

There is only one God, by definition, so I think those who keep that fact and the limits of their own knowledge in mind are almost bound to worship the "right" God, with varying degrees of misconception about His nature, and what worship He sees as fitting. A Muslim does not know God is triune, yet Christian Arabs rightly share the word "Allah" with Muslims, as we share "Yahweh" with Jews. Mormons do not know there is only one God, which does create a new barrier. But the frame of mind of Balbus in On The Nature of the Gods, justified Paul's smooth evocation of the altar "to the unknown god/s," the tentative and epistemologically humble nature of which Paul affirmed tactfully.

I read this, from EO Wilson, the other day:

"A day's walk farther south, the two rivers converge to form the greater Mongi, which runs on to the sea at Butala. As I strolled back at dusk one day at the end of one of my final excursions, I watched the clouds clear over the entire Bulum Valley below me. I could then see unbroken forest rolling down to the river and beyond for fifteen kilometers to the lower slopes of the Rawlinson Range. All that domain was bathed in an aquamarine haze, whose filtered light turned the valley into what seemed to be a vast ocean pool. At the river's edge 300 meters below, a flock of sulfur-crested cockatoos circled in lazy flight over the treetops like brilliant white fish following bottom currents. Their cries and the faint roar of the distant river were the only sounds I could hear. My tenuous thoughts on evolution, about which I have felt such enthusiasm, were diminished in the presence of sublimity. I could remember the command on the fourth day of Creation, 'Let the waters teem with countless living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the vault of heaven.'" (191-2)

I think Wilson was coming perilously close to worship at that moment, and I think that revelation was from God.

Neil Parille said...

There is only one God, by definition, so I think those who keep that fact and the limits of their own knowledge in mind are almost bound to worship the "right" God, with varying degrees of misconception about His nature, and what worship He sees as fitting. A Muslim does not know God is triune, yet Christian Arabs rightly share the word "Allah" with Muslims, as we share "Yahweh" with Jews

I don't know if this necessarily follows. Process theologians use the word "god" but do they worship "the same god" as Christians? Mormons and Jehovah's Witness believe in "Jesus" but is it the same Jesus?

Daniel Smith said...

Ed: 1. Errors in one's conception of God can be extensive enough and/or serious enough that one's worship ends up (inadvertently of course) being directed at something other than the true God.

This is the point I had issue with (I agree with your other 2 points). I was discussing specifically whether our worship can be "directed at" something other than God if we sincerely intend it toward God. If I inadvertently (meaning with a right heart but a wrong head) worship the "wrong conception" of God, does that make my worship irrelevant to God?

IOW - does wrong head trump right heart or vice versa?

Of course, I think we'd both agree that the goal should be right head AND right heart.

Edward Feser said...

Hello Daniel,

As it happens, Geach addresses that objection in his essay. In response he emphasizes, first, that the intensity and sincerity of devotion cannot guarantee that its object is the true God. To go back to the examples given in the original post, if a voter is passionately supportive of Hillary Clinton because he thinks she is staunchly pro-life, anti-"same sex marriage," anti-feminist, etc., then he is just not supportive of the real person but only a fantasy, no matter how sincere he is. If a man is passionately in love with a woman who turns out to be nothing like what he imagines about her, then his love too is directed at an illusion rather than a real person.

Second, Geach acknowledges that there is a disanalogy here insofar as the Christian God, unlike (in many cases) a politician or a woman a man might be in love with, does care whether our devotion is directed to him and that if worship results from God drawing us, then it will in fact be directed at the correct object.

However, Geach says, this is simply no guarantee that all sincere worship really is the result of God drawing the worshipper. He cites John's remark about "testing the spirits whether they are of God" as evidence that Christianity itself teaches us not to regard all such worship as having the right object. And if the object of a person's worship is radically different from the Christian God, then it is perfectly reasonable to conclude that it must not in fact have been the result of God's drawing the person.

Perhaps what troubles you is that given the sincerity of such people, it seems unfair to accuse them of worshipping a false God. But it is not a matter of fairness or unfairness, any more than it is in the case of the voter who supports a fantasy Hillary Clinton or the man who loves a fantasy woman. It's just a question of fact and evidence: Can the object of this person's worship be the true God given how much error, or how serious the error, is involved in the person's conception? It may in some cases be hard to decide, but that doesn't mean there is no fact of the matter.

You might object that such people might not be culpable, but that's irrelevant. The question at issue here isn't whether a person is culpable for worshipping something other than the true God, but simply whether he is in fact worshipping something other than the true God, however sincerely and non-culpably.

David B Marshall said...

Neil: I think it's better to say their beliefs about Jesus are partly mistaken, rather than that they "believe in a different Jesus." Our references to Jesus are joined by one datum of historical knowledge -- "the Jesus who lived in 1st Century Palestine, and is associated with the beginnings of Christianity" -- even if Muslims then make up all kinds of tall tales about him, and put them in the Gospel of Barnabas or some collection of wise sayings.

Ryan said...

Feser wrote:

As it happens, Geach addresses that objection in his essay. In response he emphasizes, first, that the intensity and sincerity of devotion cannot guarantee that its object is the true God. To go back to the examples given in the original post, if a voter is passionately supportive of Hillary Clinton because he thinks she is staunchly pro-life, anti-"same sex marriage," anti-feminist, etc., then he is just not supportive of the real person but only a fantasy, no matter how sincere he is. If a man is passionately in love with a woman who turns out to be nothing like what he imagines about her, then his love too is directed at an illusion rather than a real person.

I think there's a deeper disanalogy that hasn't been resolved yet. It only seems to arise when considering an intellectually mistaken Catholic worshiping otherwise reverently (at least objectively) before the Blessed Sacrament.

Let's say the man, still stuck with his false understanding of Hillary, meets her, respectfully shakes her hand, and presents her with a heartfelt gift in public. Does he truly honor her, despite his misconception of her politics? He arhuably does, although I don't think that's a given. It's a legitimate, unaddressed scenario, one that I think is more analogous to Average Joe at Adoration.

I suppose this comes down to justified reasons connecting the worship to the relevant truth.

Anonymous said...



I think it is important, also, to define what is meant by worship here. Worship could mean many things, from a largely sentimental attachment to a pure Intellectual contemplation, such as the goal of the Hesychasts.

Dianelos Georgoudis said...

“Well, if a worshipper is not even thinking about the true God, then he is not really worshipping the true God, but something else.”

One does not know a person by knowing truths about her, say by knowing her DNA sequence or the chemical composition of her body. One knows a person by being with her, by having a relationship with her. The metaphysics of God is an important philosophical subject matter, but it is not like that by knowing the truth about God’s metaphysics one knows God.

One can only know a person in person. It has nothing to do with the intellect. Either one knows God in person or one doesn’t know God at all. To know God is an experiential reality, not a matter of one’s thoughts. How many true beliefs about God one holds has little to do with knowing God.

Let me put what I mean as plainly as I can: The ignorant atheist who loves her neighbor, in loving her neighbor loves Christ and thus knows God much better than the sophisticated scholastic philosopher who takes no notice of her neighbor.

“a man who says he is in love with a certain woman, with whom he has only the slightest acquaintance and about whom he has all sorts of grave misconceptions, is not really in love with her but only with some fantasy woman”

This makes no sense to me. Obviously he is really in love with *her*, even though he happens to hold a lot of false beliefs about her. The beloved is the same whatever beliefs one may hold about her. Nor is the beauty and value of one’s love grounded on the truths of one’s beliefs about the beloved. Suppose, for example, that universalism is true and that therefore all Christans who love God believing that God will punish the wicked suffer a very grave misconception about God. Would their error mean that they didn’t love God in the first place? Or perhaps would their error render their love of God less true? It seems to me that on the contrary their love for God is rendered more true and precious, in that their beliefs were about a lesser being than God really is, and even so they loved Him.

“Errors in one's conception of God can be extensive enough and/or serious enough that one's worship ends up (inadvertently of course) being directed at something other than the true God.”

But there is no other to be directed at.

Anyone who cries “God” is directed towards God. Anyone who experiences the transcendent is experiencing God. True beliefs held by the intellect are like signposts which point in the right direction. Which makes them important enough - on the other hand that’s all they are. The truth of which Christ spoke is not a property of propositions, but a property of one’s being. And one can’t fail noticing that Christ found it better to use His time to play with children than to write down a philosophical tractatus.

“[Geach] cites John's remark about "testing the spirits whether they are of God" as evidence that Christianity itself teaches us not to regard all such worship as having the right object.”

It can’t be denied that true beliefs help and false beliefs hinder. Indeed one of the wisest bits in the New Testament is about how to test the truth of beliefs. Thus beliefs which help one to follow Christ’s commands are from the truth, the others come from deceiving spirits.

NoshPartitas said...

I think Dianelos has a lot to add here, and he raises important points which must be considered. Namely that that there is a kind of knowledge which is not knowledge that (i.e. knowledge of a propositional form). In the same way that qualia cannot be reduced to a set of physical facts or propositional states of affairs, there is a kind of knowledge about persons and their mental states that we have in virtue of our relationships with them that cannot be reduced to the propositional form either.

In her book Wandering In The Darkness, Eleonore Stump calls this form of knowledge of persons "Franciscan Knowledge" as opposed to "Dominican Knowledge". She does so to distinguish two modes of approaching the subject, where Franciscan Knowledge in a non-analytic type of knowledge had of person.

It is arguable that our knowledge of God is partly of this Franciscan variety. Stump argues this in her book.

"a man who says he is in love with a certain woman, with whom he has only the slightest acquaintance and about whom he has all sorts of grave misconceptions, is not really in love with her but only with some fantasy woman"

I agree with Dianoles here, and must disagree with the above statement. Dante's love for Beatrice was of this exact sort. He had only a passing acquaintance with her (indeed, he was betrothed to another woman), but he goes to great lengths in his writing to explicate his love for her. The reason he can reasonably said to have loved her is based on Aquinas' account of love. Stump claims that Aquinas' account entails the following two desires:

1) the desire for the good of the beloved,

and

2) the desire for union with the beloved.

It is surely possible that under the scenario in question, believing falsehoods about a person does not necessarily allay the lovers love for his beloved. In other words, there is such a thing as unrequited love. It is again arguable that at least some portion of this account of love applies to God as much as persons.

Just some points to consider.

NoshPartitas said...

The name of the book is Wandering in Darkness. My bad.

rank sophist said...

It should be mentioned that no beliefs about God are absolutely true in the first place, and so not even classical theists can claim to know God in any real sense. None of us have a clear and error-free concept of God to worship. However, classical theism is still "more right" than theistic personalism. Unlike theistic personalism, classical theism is open to analogy and radical mystery, and it actually tries to explain existence-as-such. Composite versions of God could never achieve these things. I think that theistic personalists on the whole are still worshipping, in whatever flawed way, the same God. They are just floundering in more errors than are the classical theists.

But I think there's weight to the idea that false beliefs can eventually bring about a sorites paradox situation. I don't think that the Mormons worship the same God that we do. Deists were also extremely far removed from what we believe. I don't know where to draw the line, but I think it exists somewhere.

Daniel Smith said...

Dianelos: One does not know a person by knowing truths about her, say by knowing her DNA sequence or the chemical composition of her body. One knows a person by being with her, by having a relationship with her. The metaphysics of God is an important philosophical subject matter, but it is not like that by knowing the truth about God’s metaphysics one knows God.

Yes! Thank you for saying that. I guess the thing that I was having a hard time with is reconciling the fact that I know people who have a real relationship with God but know very little about philosophy. They love God as a person - not as an idea or a philosophy. I'm sure also, that when God reveals the truth to them, they will gladly accept it - since it comes from the person they already know and love.

I guess I'm saying that correct knowledge of God's particulars is not a prerequisite for effective worship. "Worship" is an act of love in itself.

=======================

rank: But I think there's weight to the idea that false beliefs can eventually bring about a sorites paradox situation. I don't think that the Mormons worship the same God that we do. Deists were also extremely far removed from what we believe. I don't know where to draw the line, but I think it exists somewhere.

This brings me back to my original contention - that the line exists in our hearts. It may just be that the Mormon, who is sincerely seeking God and absolutely loves "the creator of the universe" - in spite of the obvious doctrinal errors he ascribes to - will find his worship directed at God while the person who has the doctrinal stuff right, yet does not have a true love for God, will not.

I am speaking, of course, of individuals here - not groups or denominations. I think we sometimes classify people without realizing that each has their own beliefs. Not every deist, for example, believes the exact same thing about God. And in every group or denomination, people will have their own private beliefs. I would guess that very few believe every dot and tittle of the official doctrine of the church they attend.

Glenn said...

Dianelos,

1. >> “a man who says he is in love with a certain woman, with whom he has only the slightest acquaintance and about whom he has all sorts of grave misconceptions, is not really in love with her but only with some fantasy woman”

> This makes no sense to me.

I can't say that it ought to make sense to you, for I don't know that it ought to. But I can say that it makes sense to me, for I have had personal experience with that very kind of situation. Briefly, it isn't a pleasant feeling, and it doesn't bode well for the future, when you realize that, actually, all you are is an 'adequate substitution instance' for the woman's 'mental formula' for the 'right guy'. (And I've no reason to believe that the realization might be any less unpleasant, or might bode any better, when a woman realizes that, actually, she isn't anything more than an 'adequate substitution instance' for the man's 'mental formula' for the 'right woman'.)

If someone is being loved as an 'adequate substitution instance' for the 'mental formula' of another, then that someone is being loved as an image.

And while I don't think it unlikely that a person loving an image wouldn't hold that doing so is no different than actually loving the person, I do think it unlikely that the person being loved primarily as an image, rather than actually as a person, would fail to agree that:a) there is a difference; b) the difference isn't merely metaphysically, philosophical or theoretical, but also experiential; and, c) the difference is significant.

(cont)

Glenn said...

2. >> “Errors in one's conception of God can be extensive
>> enough and/or serious enough that one's worship ends up
>> (inadvertently of course) being directed at something other
>> than the true God.”

> But there is no other to be directed at.

> Anyone who cries “God” is directed towards God.

So, what's up with the 1st and 3rd Commandments?

Please don't say that the (perverse) reasoning is (along the lines of), "Hey, that's the Old Testament. But the Old Testament has been supplanted by the New Testament. And the New Testament tells us that the first shall be last, and the last first--which has an application sufficiently wide that it legitimately may be taken to mean that the order of the Ten Commandments, given in the Old Testament, is to be reversed. And what this means, is that not only is Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain much lower on the scale of importance than had previously been thought in antiquated times (it's actually 8th rather than 3rd), but having a right conception of God, i.e., Thou shalt have no other gods before me, is even lower on that scale (it's really 10th rather than 1st)."

The objection may be something like this: "When I say there is no other to be directed at, and that anyone who cries 'God' directed towards God, I'm referring to what we may rightly take as being true when working with those gentle folk just starting out, and who haven't any 'competence' (and not unlikely won't ever have any) in the arid, abstruse atmosphere of philosophical, metaphysical or (and especially) Scholastic musings. Wouldn't you agree that what might be considered 'erroneous' by the exacting standards of philosophical parsings and metaphysical meticulousness, as well as the Scholastic's scrupulous attention to detail, are, if not irrelevant, then at least likely stumbling blocks for the gentle folk just starting out?"

If there is an objection, and it goes something like that, then the response to the objection may be something like this: "First, the context in which Geach and Feser address the matter of a right conception of God is not 'working with the gentle folk just starting out' (in fact, Dr. Feser more than adequately makes clear the context in which the matter is addressed by Geach and himself). Second, mightn't it be the case that the 'gentle folk just starting out' are potentially at greater risk of being lead awry, or at least poorly guided, if those working with them themselves lack a right conception of God than they would be if those working with them are in possession of a right conception of God?"

Anonymous said...

Never mind that any socially constructed concept of a "right" God necessarily (given the political circumstance of any time and place) leads to the definition of "heretics" and "heresies" and therefore campaigns to either convert or make toast of the "heretics" by those who have the political power.

Anyone for the Inquisition or religious wars!

Meanwhile there is a book in my local library which has a brief description of over 2000 known names of God from all times and places.

Dianelos Georgoudis said...

Glenn,

1. There are many kinds of love. If somebody loves you for all the wrong reasons then, certainly, this love is of a rather worthless kind. But it is still you this somebody loves.

When we are called to love one another it’s with a specific kind of love, namely as Christ loved us. (This is very clear in John 13:34-35 - on which it seems to me the whole Gospel turns.) And Christ’s love is self-transcending and self-sacrificing, the love that is freely given to all no matter how imperfect they may be. Which is about the opposite from the calculating, selfish, and self-deceiving love you describe.

2. The first of the ten commandments simply says that we should avoid the false belief that there are many gods, as well as the false practice of living as if there are many gods. I don’t see any conflict with what I said.

As for the third commandment I am not quite sure what its point is. One can understand it as an injunction against swearing. But perhaps also against trying to put God into small conceptual boxes. Who knows.

Again I don’t see any conflict with the idea that the most valuable knowledge of God is of the experiential kind. Propositional knowledge about God has worth only in so far as it moves us towards having experiential knowledge of God. Namely to love God and have a relation with God, to pray and receive the Spirit and the strength for doing good.

In the Gospels we find the haunting story about the road to Emmaus. I wonder, in the case you were given the following alternatives: one, to be one of the two disciples who walked with Christ but without ever learning that it was He, and two, to receive an exact transcription of what Christ said to these disciples and know these were the actual words of Christ – which would you choose?

Or, consider this alternative question: Suppose a woman you love dearly has died. What would you rather get: one, a detailed description of her physiology, as well as of every word she haw ever uttered, every thought she has ever had, and in general all propositional knowledge about her there is, or, two, being with her as you remember her for 10 more minutes?

It seems to me clear that we are made in such a way as to cherish personal relationship and personal union, i.e. atonement. In that we are made in God’s image we value these. Which, it seems to me, are our end. Propositional knowledge is a fine thing, but secondary.

As for the “gentle folk” you mention at the end, they remind me of the poor woman praying with humility at the back of the Temple. The gentle folk are quite safe. The potential error here lies with us who pride ourselves on the many things we know about God.

Nick Corrado said...

I wonder whether it's possible to cheat the sincerity problem with a Litany of Tarski-esque prayer, e.g.: "If God has these attributes, I desire to believe in that God. If God does not have these attributes, I desire to believe in that God. Let me not become attached to beliefs I may not want." I believe I saw it used something like this on Leah Libresco's blog, but it's been a while.

Glenn said...

Dianelos,

1. There are many kinds of love. If somebody loves you for all the wrong reasons then, certainly, this love is of a rather worthless kind. But it is still you this somebody loves.

If A loves B for B's money, then it is B's money which is the object of A's love. And if A only thinks that B has money, when in fact B does not, and A goes on to love B for (or so A thinks) B's money, then it is a fantasy in A's mind which is the object of A's love. In neither case is it "still [B] this somebody loves".

Also, if A loves B for any wrong reason, then isn't that wrong reason founded upon, grounded in or relevantly connected to some conception which isn't quite right? To come at the point from a different angle, how might a right conception give birth to a wrong reason? I'd say that if there is a wrong reason, then a relevantly connected conception which isn't quite right isn't too far away.

When we are called to love one another it’s with a specific kind of love, namely as Christ loved us. (This is very clear in John 13:34-35 - on which it seems to me the whole Gospel turns.) And Christ’s love is self-transcending and self-sacrificing, the love that is freely given to all no matter how imperfect they may be. Which is about the opposite from the calculating, selfish, and self-deceiving love you describe.

In response to your having said that it makes no sense to you that a fantasy woman in a man's mind is not the same thing as the woman regarding whom the man entertains a fantasy, I related a similar case from personal experience (that of a fantasy man in a woman's mind), and suggested that even though the person having the fantasy mightn't be able to recognize the difference between the fantasy person and the real person, the real person can. That Christ has called us to love one another with a specific kind of love does not disprove the existence of the difference seen by others but not seen (or perhaps only strategically ignored) by yourself.

(cont)

Glenn said...

2. The first of the ten commandments simply says that we should avoid the false belief that there are many gods, as well as the false practice of living as if there are many gods. I don’t see any conflict with what I said.

As for the third commandment I am not quite sure what its point is. One can understand it as an injunction against swearing. But perhaps also against trying to put God into small conceptual boxes. Who knows.


We'll soon find out.

But before getting to what the first and third commandments have to do with what you said, let's do a quick recap:

In response to Dr. Feser having said, "Errors in one's conception of God can be extensive enough and/or serious enough that one's worship ends up (inadvertently of course) being directed at something other than the true God," you said, "But there is no other to be directed at. Anyone who cries 'God' is directed towards God."

And in response to you having said, "But there is no other to be directed at. Anyone who cries 'God' is directed towards God," I said, "So, what's up with the 1st and 3rd commandments?"

Now, let's see what Rev. George Mastrantonis has to say about the First Commandment (in the Ten Commandments article of the Our Faith section on the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America website here): [I]n the First Commandment we read that God opposes faith in other gods. Everyone believes either in the True God or in idols and superstitions, which are the "other gods"... Devotion and worship, unguided and careless, lead people away from God... The task of the First Commandment then is to guide the believer to devote himself to the one God in the manner indicated in the Old Testament, and especially through our Lord Jesus Christ. This true faith in the One True God should be nourished daily and constantly through prayer and study so that the temptations of other gods have no power to mislead him.

Yet you say, allegedly without any conflict, that there is no other to be directed at.

And let's see what he has to say about the Third Commandment (ibid): The Third Commandment urges the faithful to use the name of the Lord With reverence and fear, but never in vain... The hypocrite uses the name of the Lord in vain because he is dressing his evil thoughts with the mantle of God's name. The Pharisee of the parable, for instance, used the name of God with a loud voice and raised his hands and eyes, but in vain. His intent was to gain arrogant personal satisfaction rather than to present a devoted prayer in repentance and humbleness.

Yet you say, again allegedly without any conflict, that anyone who cries "God" is directed towards God.

(cont)

Glenn said...

Propositional knowledge about God has worth only in so far as it moves us towards having experiential knowledge of God. Namely to love God and have a relation with God, to pray and receive the Spirit and the strength for doing good.

Generally speaking, yes. But who has said otherwise?

And would you deny that there might be some people for whom experiential knowledge of God is a reality, yet nonetheless embrace matters involving propositional knowledge about God?

In the Gospels we find the haunting story about the road to Emmaus. I wonder, in the case you were given the following alternatives: one, to be one of the two disciples who walked with Christ but without ever learning that it was He, and two, to receive an exact transcription of what Christ said to these disciples and know these were the actual words of Christ – which would you choose?

Don't you think there may be a lot of people with whom Christ is, but who don't yet know that He is with them? And mightn't it be the case that when they read what He said (or hear what He said repeated to them), they may wake up to the fact that He is with them? If not, if what use is it for the Gospel to be preached, read or spread?

Or, consider this alternative question: Suppose a woman you love dearly has died. What would you rather get: one, a detailed description of her physiology, as well as of every word she haw ever uttered, every thought she has ever had, and in general all propositional knowledge about her there is, or, two, being with her as you remember her for 10 more minutes?

Let's try a little experiment. We'll wave a magic wand, and--poof!--all the scripture in the world no longer exists, and neither does any record of any of it having ever existed. Now, do you image the world to be a better place--or all its inhabitants to be in a better state?

It seems to me clear that we are made in such a way as to cherish personal relationship and personal union, i.e. atonement. In that we are made in God’s image we value these. Which, it seems to me, are our end. Propositional knowledge is a fine thing, but secondary.

If propositional knowledge about God has worth to the extent it moves us towards having experiential knowledge of God, then propositional knowledge is primary until such time as that experiential knowledge of God is had. And, speaking metaphorically, while it is true that rockets after lift-off jettison their boosters, it also true that without their boosters some rockets do not lift-off.

As for the “gentle folk” you mention at the end, they remind me of the poor woman praying with humility at the back of the Temple. The gentle folk are quite safe. The potential error here lies with us who pride ourselves on the many things we know about God.

If the gentle folk truly are quite safe, then there is no danger of their being misled by temptation, is there? And, likewise, there is no danger of their failing to properly distinguish between the One True God on the one hand, and idols and superstitions on the other hand, right? So, basically, we're right back where we started--with my asking (this shortened version of my original question), 'So, what's up with the 1st commandment?"

- - - - -

Perhaps it is the case that you are in the booster-has-been-jettisoned stage, or have managed (i.e., experienced) lift-off without a booster. If so, then, truly, it is wonderful.

BenYachov said...

Glenn, why is it all or nothing?

Idolatry:
http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/07636a.htm

Moral aspect

Considered in itself, idolatry is the greatest of mortal sins. For it is, by definition, an inroad on God's sovereignty over the world, an attempt on His Divine majesty, a rebellious setting up of a creature on the throne that belongs to Him alone. Even the simulation of idolatry, in order to escape death during persecution, is a mortal sin, because of the pernicious falsehood it involves and the scandal it causes. Of Seneca who, against his better knowledge, took part in idolatrous worship, St. Augustine says: "He was the more to be condemned for doing mendaciously what people believed him to do sincerely". The guilt of idolatry, however, is not to be estimated by its abstract nature alone; the concrete form it assumes in the conscience of the sinner is the all-important element. No sin is mortal — i.e. debars man from attaining the end for which he was created — that is not committed with clear knowledge and free determination. But how many, or how few, of the countless millions of idolaters are, or have been, able to distinguish between the one Creator of all things and His creatures? and, having made the distinction, how many have been perverse enough to worship the creature in preference to the Creator? — It is reasonable, Christian, and charitable to suppose that the "false gods" of the heathen were, in their conscience, the only true God they knew, and that their worship being right in its intention, went up to the one true God with that of Jews and Christians to whom He had revealed Himself. "In the day when God shall judge the secrets of men by Jesus Christ . . . . . the gentiles who have not the law, shall be judged by their conscience" (Romans 2:14-16). God, who wishes all men to be saved, and Christ, who died for all who sinned in Adam, would be frustrated in their merciful designs if the prince of this world were to carry off all idolaters.

Glenn said...

Ben,

1. It is reasonable, Christian, and charitable to suppose that the "false gods" of the heathen were, in their conscience, the only true God they knew, and that their worship being right in its intention, went up to the one true God with that of Jews and Christians to whom He had revealed Himself.

Altering the tense... if the heathen's worship isn't right in its intention, however reasonable, Christian and charitable it may be to suppose that it is, supposing that it is won't make it so--only God truly knows. The suppositions, therefore, do not constitute a guaranty that any heathen worshipping "false gods" necessarily and most assuredly is doing so from a right intention--rather, they are meant to guide our attitude towards and treatment of the heathen (in the direction of being reasonable, Christian and charitable).

2. "In the day when God shall judge the secrets of men by Jesus Christ . . . . . the gentiles who have not the law, shall be judged by their conscience" (Romans 2:14-16).

Okay, fine. But what have I or anyone else said in opposition to this? Unless and until it is clarified otherwise, the 'anyone' in Dianelos' "Anyone who cries 'God' is directed towards God" includes, via the definition of 'anyone', those who are not amongst 'the gentiles who have not the law', i.e., it includes those non-gentiles who, notwithstanding that they have or have had the law, worship "false gods".

And if by 'gentle folk' is meant only, solely and nothing but 'the gentiles who have not the law', then there still must be--in some sense and on some level--some danger involved in their, as I said earlier, "failing to properly distinguish between the One True God on the one hand, and idols and superstitions on the other hand".

Why?

Consider the alternative, i.e., suppose that there isn't any danger, none whatsoever, in idolatry in and of itself (for the gentile who has not the law). Now consider that God, who wishes all men to be saved, and Christ, who died for all who sinned in Adam, would be frustrated in their merciful designs if the prince of this world were to carry off all idolaters (from the same article you quoted from).

If there isn't any danger, none whatsoever, failing to properly distinguish between the One True God on the one hand, and idols and superstitions on the other hand, then any idolater who has carried off by the prince of this world would not have been carried off specifically because of his idolatry.

However, mightn't it be the case that it might have been--not necessarily would have been, but might have been--more difficult for him to have been carried off by the prince of the world had he, the former, been correctly worshipping the true God?

The nearest fire department happens to be right around the corner from where I live, so firefighters will be here in no time at all if a fire breaks out. But if I live in the wilderness, say, thirty miles from the nearest town, and a fire breaks out in my house, all may well be ashes and rumble by the time the firefighters show up. Now, if I'm busy deflecting the true God via worship of false gods, the time it takes in some spiritual emergency to relinquish my dedication to the false gods, and cease deflecting the true God, may be more than enough time for the prince of the world to close the deal (so to speak (and to mix metaphors)).

(cont)

Glenn said...

Surfing the internet without using anti-virus software won't cause one's computer to become infected with a computer virus. Nonetheless, one's computer is less likely to become infected with a computer virus while one is surfing the internet if one is using anti-virus software while doing so. Therefore, a right conception of God is, in a sense, 'anti-prince-of-the-world software'. And while it may not be a guaranty against infiltration, a strong case can be made in favor of the notion that it does indeed reduce the risk of being infiltrated.

At any rate, and to quote the concluding statement of the OP, The point is that, as Geach says, “we dare not be complacent” about the question.

BenYachov said...

>Altering the tense... if the heathen's worship isn't right in its intention, however reasonable, Christian and charitable it may be to suppose that it is, supposing that it is won't make it so--only God truly knows.

Yes only God knows & only God may judge who among the heathen is objectively a formal idolator & is thus culpable for his idolatry vs who is truly ignorant threw no fault of their own & thus a mere material idolator. Of course believers who cannot claim invincible ignorance are still morally obligated to correct even the material idolator. But the mere presence of material idolatry & absence of the malice associated with formal idolatry, plus any extra-ordinary Divine Grace granted by Providence and divine mercy would make fertile ground for the conversion of such a heathen. Of course Pius IX said we mere human beings can't know who among the heathen are true formal idolators & we are not allowed to use the possible presence of mere material idolatry as a pretense not to preach the gospel.

>The suppositions, therefore, do not constitute a guaranty that any heathen worshipping "false gods" necessarily and most assuredly is doing so from a right intention--rather, they are meant to guide our attitude towards and treatment of the heathen (in the direction of being reasonable, Christian and charitable).

Correct we cannot know who is a possible anonymous believer vs who is not, we are not meant to know and we may not cite the possibility as a pretense to disobey the divine mandate to preach the gospel.

>Okay, fine. But what have I or anyone else said in opposition to this? Unless and until it is clarified otherwise, the 'anyone' in Dianelos' "Anyone who cries 'God' is directed towards God" includes, via the definition of 'anyone', those who are not amongst 'the gentiles who have not the law', i.e., it includes those non-gentiles who, notwithstanding that they have or have had the law, worship "false gods".

Christian charity assumes he was merely speaking generally & meant it in an orthodox fashion.
Even God speaks generally when God's Word tells us "all have sinned" surely we don't take "all" to include the Deity as well.

BenYachov said...

continue:

>And if by 'gentle folk' is meant only, solely and nothing but 'the gentiles who have not the law', then there still must be--in some sense and on some level--some danger involved in their, as I said earlier, "failing to properly distinguish between the One True God on the one hand, and idols and superstitions on the other hand".

Of course! Hypothetically I could if I was homeless eat solely out of dumpsters my whole life & manage to only eat the relatively fresh bites & avoid the confected ones. But there is still risk of eating something bad that will make me sick and die. Morally if you knew of a soup kitchen I could go too you would be obligated to tell me. Some among the heathen may be saved under the usual conditions of extra-ordinary grace but there might be others who can only be saved if they hear the gospel and convert.

We don't know who is who as believers we only know what we must do. We do out job and let God do His and we don't try to do God's job nor expect Him to do ours.

There is a difference between Christian inclusiveism which is orthodox that tells us God gives all men sufficient grace and provides a way for them to be saved even those who don't know Him threw no fault of their own on the one hand vs the heresy of religious indifferentism which says God saves the heathen because he really doesn't care of they believe in him or not or what they believe or not.

God will save who He wants to save & we have no say in it & we are obligated as believers to preach his word. Pius XII said even if you could somehow impossibly know a particular heathen was a mere material idolator & received extra-ordinary Grace you would still via the divine command have to preach the word to him. If only because you would be giving him more then he has presently.

Glenn said...

Ben,

>> Unless and until it is clarified otherwise, the 'anyone' in
>> Dianelos' "Anyone who cries 'God' is directed towards God"
>> includes, via the definition of 'anyone', those who are not
>> amongst 'the gentiles who have not the law', i.e., it includes
>> those non-gentiles who, notwithstanding that they have or
>> have had the law, worship "false gods".

> Christian charity assumes he was merely speaking generally
> & meant it in an orthodox fashion. Even God speaks
> generally when God's Word tells us "all have sinned"
> surely we don't take "all" to include the Deity as well.

Re your second statement, of course not.

Re your first statement, I would suggest that Christian charity does not mandate that the content of a statement alone be paid attention to, and that the context of its utterance be ignored.

Given the context of the statement's utterance, it seemed not unreasonable to surmise that (okay, honestly, it seemed clear to me that), however much the utterer was speaking generally, and may have meant it in an orthodox fashion, the statement served, whether by accident or design, to rebut a particular something said in the OP, or at least to indicate that that particular something needn't be taken as worthy of consideration.

I didn't get technical for the heck of it, to amuse myself, out of some misunderstanding of what it means to speak generally or due to a failure to appreciate that leeway is to be given when another is speaking generally, but in order to rebut (what I took to be) the rebuttal, or at least to counter (what I took to be) the indication.

Here is what was said in the OP: "Errors in one's conception of God can be extensive enough and/or serious enough that one's worship ends up (inadvertently of course) being directed at something other than the true God."

And here is what was said explicitly in response to it: "But there is no other to be directed at. Anyone who cries 'God' is directed towards God."

Given the context, it seemed to me that there was an implicit preface to the explicit response, so that what was being said, in effect, was, "Actually, the truth of the matter is that errors in one's conception of God are both meaningless and irrelevant. And this is so for the reasons that: a) there is no other to be directed at; and, b) anyone who cries 'God' is directed towards God."

If I'm wrong, off-base or out of line regarding what I was responding to or how I responded to it, then I'll stand corrected.

As for each of the other points you make... I agree (and trust that I haven't said anything previously which might have indicated that I might not).

Glenn said...

PS In addition to agreeing with each of your other points, I'm glad you made them. I like reading the truth; it's the next best thing to hearing it.

Glenn said...

Well, I suppose it would have been better to have simply said this:

- - - - -

If each of the following three statements is true...

a) It cannot be denied that true beliefs help and false beliefs hinder;

b) One of the wisest bits in the New Testament is about how to test the truth of beliefs;
and,

c) Beliefs which help one to follow Christ's commands are from the truth, the others come from deceiving spirits...


...then there seems little reason to seriously doubt that it may be possible that,

"Errors in one's conception of God can be extensive enough and/or serious enough that one's worship ends up (inadvertently of course) being directed at [deceiving spirits rather] than [at] the true God."

Dianelos Georgoudis said...

Glenn,

Sorry for the delay in responding. I am thinking and I don’t want to hurry.

Glenn said...

Dianelos,

I am thinking...

!

'tis a friendly '!', it is.

More relevantly, I appreciate that you prefer to be patient rather than to hurry.

Glenn said...

Meanwhile, back at the ranch...

I've been partly busying myself with the Philokalia. And here is something which has stood out:

(cont)

Glenn said...

It is helpful to first mention that Aquinas addresses the question of whether man has free-will (see ST I q83 a1), and, in support of a negative response, several objections are raised.

One of the objections--the 5th objection--is, [It would seem than man has not free-will, for] the Philosopher says (Ethic. iii, 5): "According as each one is, such does the end seem to him." But it is not in our power to be of one quality or another; for this comes to us from nature. Therefore it is natural to us to follow some particular end, and therefore we are not free in so doing.

Aquinas subsequently counters this objection, however. And he does so by saying, in part, that, [S]uch as a man is by virtue of a corporeal quality, such also does his end seem to him, because from such a disposition a man is inclined to choose or reject something. But these inclinations are subject to the judgment of reason... Wherefore this is in no way prejudicial to free-will.

The important thing here, with respect to what follows, is not that some particular objection against man having free-will has been disarmed, but that a particular something had been alluded to in the disarming of that objection. And the particular something alluded to in the disarming of that objection is, to be it loosely, the hierarchal ascendancy of the human intellect over the human will ("these inclinations are subject to the judgment of reason").

(cont)

Glenn said...

Now,

1. A wordy consociation from Vol. I of the Philokalia: [We should not] try to evade our conscience when it speaks to us of things conducive to salvation that we ought to do, and constantly tells us what is right and what is our duty. This it does especially when purified through active, applied, and meticulous watchfulness of intellect; for then, owing to its pure state, the judgments of the conscience tend to be all-embracing, to the point, and indisputable. So it should not be evaded, since it tells us inwardly how to live in conformity to God's will, and by severely censuring the soul when the mind has been infected by sins, and by admonishing the erring heart to repent, it provides welcome counsel as to how our defective state can be cured. (Note that it is not being said that it is the intellect which provides the 'welcome counsel', but the conscience--especially when purified through active, applied, and meticulous watchfulness of intellect.)

2. A less wordy consociation from the same: If a monk submits his will to the law of God, then his intellect will govern in accordance with this law all that is subordinate to itself. It will direct as it should all the soul's impulses, especially its incensive power and desire, for these are subordinate to it.

3. Yet another consociation (which, despite being more wordy than the prior two, is grounded in something rather practical): Suppose, for instance, that a thought full of avarice is suggested to you. Distinguish between the component elements: the intellect which has accepted the thought, the intellection of gold, gold itself, and the passion of avarice. Then ask: in which of these does the sin consist? Is it the intellect? But how then can the intellect be the image of God? Is it the intellection of gold? But what sensible person would ever say that? Then is gold itself the sin? In that case, why was it created? It follows, then, that the cause of the sin is the fourth element, which is neither an objective reality, nor the intellection of something real, but is a certain noxious pleasure which, once it is freely chosen, compels the intellect to misuse what God has created. It is this pleasure that the law of God commands us to cut off. Now as you investigate the thought in this way and analyze it into its components, it will be destroyed; and the demon will take to flight once your mind is raised to a higher level by this spiritual knowledge.

4. So, it would seem that running through (at least some parts of) the Philokalia, is a background knowledge and awareness of the hierarchal ascendancy of the human intellect over the human will. Granted, the usages of 'intellect' by Aquinas and the Philokalia are not necessarily fully homogenous; but they don't seem to be fully heterogeneous either.

Glenn said...

(to be it loosely s/b "to put it loosely")

Dianelos Georgoudis said...

Glenn,

If A loves B for B's money, then it is B's money which is the object of A's love.

I don’t think that follows. If I love God for God’s beauty, it does not follow that it’s God’s beauty and not God that I love. It is true that one’s experience of a person is strongly influenced by that person’s attributes or properties - be it beauty, intelligence, or money. In turn that experience affects the kind or value of one’s love. But it’s always the actual person one loves. Please remember where this discussion started, namely with the idea that if one loves a person while holding many false beliefs about her then, after some point, it’s not that person one loves but somebody else. I disagreed with that, and I still don’t see how it makes sense. One doesn’t love the concept; one loves the person.

Incidentally, I wonder sometimes whether the greatest kind of love really has an “object”. Self-transcending love tends to be universal and in this sense object-less. Or one could say that the object of self-transcending love is all there is, reality itself.

We'll soon find out.

True enough. Perhaps not very soon though.

Yet you say, allegedly without any conflict, that there is no other to be directed at.

Right, and I must say that Rev. George Mastrantonis’s talk about “other gods” is very misleading. There are no other gods.

What I am trying to say is simple, and what I claim are factual descriptions of the human condition. Thus, a major dimension of the human condition is the call of the transcendent. We all hear that call, albeit naturalists imagine they are imagining things. Now, also as a matter of fact, if one responds to that call with a humble and longing heart then God responds one way or the other. And God responds no matter how mistaken one’s beliefs about the One who is calling might be. It is in this sense that I wrote that anyone who cries ‘God’ (or ‘Brahman’ or ‘gods’ for that matter) is directed towards God.

Having said that, we also hear the call of deceiving spirits. The ontology of such spirits is a difficult matter. (I hold that they are an expression of the fallen nature of the world and have no independent subjective existence. They exist only in that they deceive us, so there are no actual spirits out there to respond to our calls. Indeed the deceiving spirit of pride is a major player here.) And there are many other factors that may lead us into holding false beliefs about God. Indeed we may safely assume that we all hold some false beliefs about God. Now which practices help one avoid being deceived is another matter, on which apparently Mastrantonis, and certainly the Philokalia, have specific things to say. For us Christians I think the matter is rather straightforward: Any call we hear and any belief we hold that move us to follow the path and commandments of Christ come from the truth; any other call or belief come from deception. The foundation of the world is moral, and therefore the safest way to judge truth is an ethical one.

[continues]

Dianelos Georgoudis said...

Going back to the basics, the only possible warrant for beliefs is the human condition, that is the whole of our experience of life. For there is nothing else on which a belief can be grounded. Now the human condition is not a constant. There is reason to believe that saints, mystics, monks, experience life in a way which is radically different from ours. But let’s focus on the common human condition only, the rest 99% of us. What grounds belief in God in our case? I myself became a self-aware Christian after reading the Gospels, for in them I recognized my master’s voice as it were. Others may recognize God’s voice in other writings. Or in a religious community. Or in the beauty of nature. Or in hard work. The point is that God is present in our experience of life, but in a way which is not obvious but can become apparent in many different ways. But it is not uncommon for people to pass through life without becoming *aware* of the presence of God, while at the same time responding to the presence of God as all normal people do.

[continues]

Dianelos Georgoudis said...

Now true beliefs about God are also of many kinds.

Obviously there are many truths about our experience of God, and these are important beliefs. On the other hand people do not experience God in a uniform way. If the human condition is such that physical objects such as a mountain or the sea can be experienced and described in a million different ways, it’s not surprising that so too one’s experience of God. Only contrary to the case of the sea or the mountain God is not an object one may point one’s finger at when speaking with other people. Thus it is natural that different people have different experiences, hold different true beliefs about them, and express these in different ways. The communal worship of God plays a major role too, in that it establishes specific symbols, narratives, ceremonies, art forms. Contrary to what naturalists think, the variety of peoples’ communal response to the divine is what one would expect to be the case if theism is true. For the greatest conceivable being is clearly not such that there is only one way in which a community may respond to it. On the other hand, on theism there is only one path towards atonement, and here indeed one observes that the moral message of all great religions in the last 3.000 years are virtually identical. (They all focus on self-transcendence, love for all, peace, charity, simplicity, poverty.)

Other true beliefs do not refer to our actual experience and relationship with God, but to God as a being. Not only metaphysically (say God’s fundamental attributes, Trinitarian nature, etc), but also on such levels as understanding God’s purpose in creating the human condition the way it is (i.e. theodicy), eschatology, etc. These are the kinds of beliefs the philosopher likes to think about. They are not unimportant, in that they help us rebuff deceiving spirits, they help remove obstacles which hide God’s great beauty from us, etc. Not to mention that the very act of thinking about God is a kind of prayer. But, it seems to me, they are far less important than philosophers and dogmatic theologians judge them to be. Please observe that when God incarnated and lived among us, He did not write down dogmatic texts nor discussed philosophical arguments with His disciples. Rather He loved them, it was for that love that they followed Him, in that love they recognized Him for what He was, and it was by that love that they were transformed and dedicated their life to the foundation of Christianity. And to the degree that He taught to them, He spoke in commands or in parables about the path towards God, the good life (or the natural life as a Thomist might put it), i.e. He presented to them ethical truths without argument, expecting them to recognize their truth just by looking at Him. On theism truth is ultimately a personal reality, a way a person is – and truth can best be expounded by realizing it in one’s own person through repentance. (Come to think of it, Christ did use a kind of argument for His ethical teaching: That we being made by God in God’s image should strive to be as perfect as God in heaven is. That as God sends rain to the just and to the unjust, so too should we forgive everybody.)

Glenn said...

Dianelos,

>> “If A loves B for B's money, then it is B's money which is
>> the object of A's love.”

> I don’t think that follows. If I love God for God’s beauty,
> it does not follow that it’s God’s beauty and not God
> that I love.

I agree with the second statement itself, but disagree with its contextual implication (for if God's beauty is like a person's money, then it would seem to follow that the love of beauty is the root of all evil).

It is true that one’s experience of a person is strongly influenced by that person’s attributes or properties - be it beauty, intelligence, or money.

If money is no less an attribute or property of a person than is beauty or intelligence, what is there to prevent our saying the same thing of, e.g., a person's real estate holdings?

Please remember where this discussion started, namely with the idea that if one loves a person while holding many false beliefs about her then, after some point, it’s not that person one loves but somebody else. I disagreed with that, and I still don’t see how it makes sense.

Let it also be recalled that the very first thing I had said in response to your statement (that it makes no sense to you) was, "I can't say that it ought to make sense to you, for I don't know that it ought to." I'm going to leave it at this.

I must say that Rev. George Mastrantonis’s talk about “other gods” is very misleading. There are no other gods.

Rev. G. M. specifically states that idols and superstitions are the "other gods". To say that there are no other gods, then, is to say that there aren't any idols or superstitions.

...as a matter of fact, if one responds to that call with a humble and longing heart then God responds one way or the other. And God responds no matter how mistaken one’s beliefs about the One who is calling might be. It is in this sense that I wrote that anyone who cries ‘God’ (or ‘Brahman’ or ‘gods’ for that matter) is directed towards God.

Since I had said, "Unless and until it is clarified otherwise...," I should thank you for clarifying. Thank you.

Come to think of it, Christ did use a kind of argument for His ethical teaching

He also employed reasoned arguments for other purposes. Consider, e.g., John 10:31-36:

"Then the Jews took up stones again to stone him.

"Jesus answered them, Many good works have I shewed you from my Father; for which of those works do ye stone me?

"The Jews answered him, saying, For a good work we stone thee not; but for blasphemy; and because that thou, being a man, makest thyself God.

"Jesus answered them, Is it not written in your law, I said, Ye are gods? If he called them gods, unto whom the word of God came, and the scripture cannot be broken; Say ye of him, whom the Father hath sanctified, and sent into the world, Thou blasphemest; because I said, I am the Son of God?"

(Sidebar: Apparently, Jesus was referring to Psalm 82:6--"I have said, Ye are gods; and all of you are children of the most High." (But even if He wasn't, the existence of Psalm 82:6 in Scripture may be taken as a convenient rationale for the fact that other parts of Scripture explicitly state that we are not to have other gods before the most High, i.e., before God Himself.))

Glenn said...

Dianelos,

Is God everywhere and in everything?

This isn't a trick question, but it is a set up, so be cautious in how you frame your answer. Or, better yet, refrain from posting any answer to the question.

Glenn said...

Dianelos,

A prefatory anecdote:

Several days ago I was walking down the street on my way to lunch. About thirty yards in front of me was a guy standing on the sidewalk with a clipboard in his hands. As soon as I saw him, I knew two things: a) the guy was going to either approach me or snag me as I walked by; and, b) I'd have to make a decision as to whether to give my support to one thing or another.

It turned out that he was collecting signatures for a petition to put someone on a ballot. The would-be candidate's name was, we shall say, Wanna B. A. Candidate.

As I had never heard of Wanna B. A. Candidate, I asked, "Who is he?" And the response was, "He's a good guy."

Well, that settled that. Since he is a good guy, there is no reason, none whatsoever, for me not to sign the petition. Or so the signature collector, apparently, wanted me to think.

Instead of signing, I said, "Yes, but who is he?" And the response was, "He's running for ----, and needs just --- signatures to get on the ballot. He's a really good guy, and you'll like him."

Oh ye of little faith.

Since he is a really good guy, and I'm going to like him, there now really is no reason, none whatsoever, for me not to sign the petition. Or so the signature collector, apparently, wanted me to think.

But instead of signing, I said, "I still don't know anything about him. Who is he?" And the guy said, "He's a Libertarian, and he's in favor of the legalization of marijuana."

Aha. With the dissipation of unhelpful if not misleading generalities, relevant facts emerge.

And now in possession of some relevant facts, I said, "Oh," as I put the pen down on the clipboard, and then, handing back the clipboard, said, "No thank you."

(cont)

Glenn said...

There is reason to believe that saints, mystics, monks, experience life in a way which is radically different from ours. But let’s focus on the common human condition only, the rest 99% of us....

Other true beliefs do not refer to our actual experience and relationship with God, but to God as a being. Not only metaphysically (say God’s fundamental attributes, Trinitarian nature, etc), but also on such levels as understanding God’s purpose in creating the human condition the way it is (i.e. theodicy), eschatology, etc. These are the kinds of beliefs the philosopher likes to think about. They are not unimportant, in that they help us rebuff deceiving spirits, they help remove obstacles which hide God’s great beauty from us, etc. Not to mention that the very act of thinking about God is a kind of prayer. But, it seems to me, they are far less important than philosophers and dogmatic theologians judge them to be.

It may well be the case that some philosophers and dogmatic theologians over-estimate the value of their contributions to the community at large.

Yet, if it is true that 99% of us are stuck in the common human condition (with the other 1%--comprised of saints, mystics and monks--being a breed apart), and if it is also true that "The foundation of the world is moral, and therefore the safest way to judge truth is an ethical one," then perhaps it would behoove us to not under-estimate the value of the contributions of all philosophers and dogmatic theologians.

To acknowledge that their contributions are not unimportant is a good thing; but to acknowledge them in such a way as to seemingly imply that they are merely not unimportant may be to under-estimate the value of those contributions.

(cont)

Glenn said...

Suppose someone was to say, "Jesus told us to become like children. Paul said that not many wise and not many philosophers are chosen."

Well, the intended implication seems clear--woe unto the wise and the philosophers.

And there seems to be no reason, none whatsoever, for me not to sign the petition--with 'sign the petition' here meaning to relegate the wise and the philosophers to the periphery.

"Don't worry guys; the world isn't flat, and you won't fall off. It's just that the rest of us would be better off without you guys hanging around mucking things up with your slicing and dicing, and without your nauseating assignment of things to one category or another."

But suppose instead of signing the petition, I ask, not "Who is Paul?", but "Where did Paul say that about the wise and the philosophers?"

And suppose in pursuing an answer to that question I were to find the following in 1 Corinthians 1: "Where is the wise? where is the scribe? where is the disputer of this world? hath not God made foolish the wisdom of this world?"

Well, I would conclude that Paul had engaged in some slicing and dicing of his own, and that he too assigned things to different categories--for I would see that he cleaved the class of "the wise and philosophers" in two, and assigned to one half those whose wisdom and philosophy have to do with things of this world, and, by default, left to the other half those whose wisdom and philosophy have to do with things not of this world.

I would further conclude that if I should feel inclined to disparage the wise and philosophers, that it would perhaps be best for me to not do so in a manner which is indiscriminate.

For why should I include in the target of my disparagement those of the wise and philosophers whose wisdom and philosophy has not to do with things of this world?

And why should I include in the target of that disparagement those whose wisdom and philosophy appear to have to do only with things of this world, when yet they in fact may be well-grounded in, and thus informed by, wisdom and philosophy having to do with things not of this world?

(cont)

Glenn said...

Please observe that when God incarnated and lived among us, He did not write down dogmatic texts nor discussed philosophical arguments with His disciples. Rather He loved them, it was for that love that they followed Him, in that love they recognized Him for what He was, and it was by that love that they were transformed and dedicated their life to the foundation of Christianity.

Yes.

Let it also be observed that in dedicating their life to the foundation of Christianity some original eyewitnesses and participants went so far as to write things down--in order, on occasion, to bolster, support and further solidify the instruction others had already received (e.g., "Forasmuch as many have taken in hand to set forth in order a declaration of those things which are most surely believed among us, Even as they delivered them unto us, which from the beginning were eyewitnesses, and ministers of the word; It seemed good to me also, having had perfect understanding of all things from the very first, to write unto thee in order, most excellent Theophilus, That thou mightest know the certainty of those things, wherein thou hast been instructed." Luke 1:1-4)

Let it be further observed that He told His disciples, "Whosoever shall not receive you, nor hear your words, when ye depart out of that house or city, shake off the dust of your feet."

And let it be considered that at least some of His subsequent, non-original disciples have done more than leave behind the dust of their feet--they also have left behind bread crumbs in the form of, in some cases, dogmatic texts and clarifications pertaining to philosophical arguments, that those who initially either did not receive or did not hear, might later have something to return to, pick up, nibble on and, perhaps, utilize to the end of seeking out or following the path--and this on the premise, apparently, that responses sometimes are delayed, that sometimes it takes a while for things to sink in and penetrate, and that sometimes it is the way in which something is put which might make a difference in whether that something shall be received or not.

I would hazard a guess, too, that those bread crumbs may have come in handy even for some of those who may never have had an initial opportunity to directly receive or hear.

He presented to them ethical truths without argument, expecting them to recognize their truth just by looking at Him.

And sometimes it worked, and sometimes it didn't.

And when it didn't, some were inflamed, enraged and resorted to violence just by the sight or sound of Him.

It thus may be concluded that our Christian version of 'est' sometimes is efficacious, and sometimes is counterproductive.

And for those cases where it is or may be counterproductive (or is merely not efficacious), there is a something else which may be put to good use.

Glenn said...

Dianelos,

A clarification, a retraction, an explanation, and a general comment--primarily in regard to my response to the following statement:

He presented to them ethical truths without argument, expecting them to recognize their truth just by looking at Him.

1. Clarification: My response was based on an overly broad interpretation of 'them'. That is, I took 'them' as referring to any and all to whom He had attempted to present 'ethical truths'. But there is a problem...

2. Retraction: My overly broad interpretation of 'them' is not warranted by the context in which the statement occurs. Indeed, the statement's context makes clear that by 'them' is meant His disciples. And it is quite likely that by 'His disciples' is meant the 12 Apostles.

(But even if the lower case 'd' in 'disciples' is taken as an indication that by 'His disciples' is meant not just the 12 Apostles, but any follower of His, my response to the statement still does not qualify as making sense (for it is highly dubious that any follower of His worthy of being genuinely referred to as a disciple, would feel some sort of antagonism at the sight or sound of Him).)

So, I retract my response to the statement.

3. Explanation: I'm pretty sure what happened is that I had done a copy/paste of the specific statements I had wished to respond to, and then, when eventually getting around to the one above, failed to accurately recall the proper referent of 'them'.

4. General comment: Notwithstanding the retraction, I continue to hold that a Christian version of 'est' sometimes is efficacious, and sometimes is not; and that when it is not, there is a something else which may be put to good use.

Steve Finnell said...

CHRIST ALONE

Jesus Christ is the only way to gain salvation, the only way to heaven, the only way to the Father. Do all Christians believe that? All who claim to be Christians do not believe that.

A 2007 Pew research forum on Religion found that 57% of the evangelical Christians, who were polled, believed that many religions can lead to eternal life.

Those who claim the Bible as God's word do not always use it as their guide for what they believe.

CHRIST ALONE ACCORDING TO THE BIBLE

Acts 4:10-12 let it be know to all of you and to all the people of Israel, that by the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead--by this name this man stands here before you in good health. 11 He is the stone which was rejected by you, the builders, but which became the chief corner stone. 12 And there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved."

If 57% of all so-called evangelical Christians believe that there are many ways to heaven, it is not difficult to understand why so many of them reject the words of Jesus when He said "He who has believed and has been baptized shall be saved..(Mark 16:16). If you do not believe Jesus is the only way to heaven, then, it makes it very easy to deny that water baptism is essential for salvation.

Did you ever notice how, well know, so-called Christian preachers will not say that Jesus is the only way to heaven? Billy Graham and Joel Osteen come to mind. They also claim water baptism is not essential for salvation. Is there a connection?

YOU EITHER BELIEVE AND PREACH THE TRUTH OR YOU DO NOT. A PARTIAL GOSPEL CANNOT SAVE ANYONE.

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