Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Some More about God and Men

From an earlier note, a week or so ago, that I made to myself.  Why I need to try to figure out all these metaphysical maybe's is attributable to Human Nature, and to the subject matter of my studies this term. 

Epicurus* asked:
Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is not all-powerful.
Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent.
Is he both able and willing? Then whence cometh evil?
Is he neither able nor willing?  Then why call him God? 
God exists as something real – the micro-, macro- and astro-scopic Universe itself – huge, infinitely complex, beyond men’s ability to control or comprehend. This is "the Creation", whether it was something created or remains perpetual or whatever its ultimate nature may prove to be. This God can be seen, analyzed, and learned from. Whether it is, as the Stoics claimed, a"providential" one depends on your definition of 'providential', and then upon your experience and your bent in life.

God also exists – subsists, perhaps? – as a feeling, as the experiences of thinking and of conscience – whether these come from the otherwise fanciful pneuma deduced by the Stoics, or from some sort of organic neural feedback, or from whatever.  We (at least most of us) carry these and participate in them, and we get the feeling that – well – there's something going on that’s not just material.  We can call it soul, pneuma, Daimon, Guardian Angel, Christ-in-us, Reason, moral sense, or even numina that lace the land about us.  This God cannot be seen, cannot be proven to be material, remains both hard to pin down but also remains self-evident to us.

Whether you claim a Single God (combining all divine attributes), or Two Gods (as I have crudely laid out above), or Three Gods (as in the Christian Trinity, united as One), or a full Pantheon (as in the many and endlessly various Pagan traditions), what we do know is that we are, for the most part, dealing with an Idea whose manifestation is both our whole physical world – the "works" of God – and also our own inner selves.  But there’s no other hard evidence, just "hearsay", as Thomas Paine put it.  And this evidence that we do have available – that we and the world ARE -- does not have a simple, intelligible signature that quiets all controversy.  It is much more complex than that.

The only honest notion about God or the Gods, I am convinced, is the Agnostic One – as in, "I don’t know, but I think … !"  The actions of worship (on one hand) and reasoning (on the other) are both indications of God, in us, at work. 

*   The only authority for this being Epicurus's argument is Lactantius, the only ancient source to quote it.  He may have been wrong about having Epicure as the author; in fact, Epicurus's notions of the Gods seem to run counter to the notions inherent in the quote. 

Writer Os Guinness

Salvete, qui legentes - 

(My Latin is so much bullshit!  I'm enamoured of it but am so ill-studied.  But that is quite beside the point today....) 

I want to mention a very good author, one whom I hold in respect -- while also, at times, arguing with in my lonesome journal:  Os Guinness, a man of reason and responsibility, a Christian writer who can bridge the gap (at least for me) between what is decent in the moral (and so, intellectual and political) stances of the American Left and Right.  It probably helps that he's not from around these parts to begin with. 

Amazon's bio of him lists this:
    OS GUINNESS (DPhil, Oxford University) is an author and social critic. Born in China, he was educated in England at the Universities of London and Oxford. He moved to the United States in 1984....
Whether he likes it or not, I count him a proper Humanist, concerned for both real people as well as traditions of wisdom, and keen to penetrate partisan dishonesty.  I've read only two of his many books and recommend them both. 

  • The Case for Civility: And Why Our Future Depends on It
but especially this one,
  • Unspeakable: Facing Up to Evil in an Age of Genocide and Terror .
Need more folk like him. 


Metaphysics from Iohannes

Salve, si aliquis has legit !

I am, as affiliations go, a Stoic -- at least, these days.  Have been since 2006, a decade or so.  I'm currently taking a course from the College of Stoic Philosophers (not accredited, I don't believe) whose classes are done over the Internet, are affordable, and are not bound up in the toils of professional academia.  Professional philosophers may sniff at this College (collection of colleagues) but it fulfills a purpose that the unaffordable and scholarly-professional schools do not address -- common people living their lives. 

Enough about the College. I'm grateful they've been around.  But I'm currently finishing up a quarter in which we've read on Stoic Physics, which -- for the Stoics -- was also Stoic Theology.  We're at the last section, and the subject is Piety. 

Looking over Erik the Scholarch's summation for this quarter, I find myself agreeing with most everything.  The one area where I can't agree with Erik and my mentor, Chris, is that of the Stoic God's Providence.  The Stoics had an interesting idea of God and of Providence:  They argued that while most of the universe is a system of causes (not a chain, not a domino effect), men are set apart, a section in them reserved for a minor sort of divine intelligence (all the universe being infused to greater or lesser degrees with a Cosmic Intelligence that orders things and creates movement and animation and consciousness).  What this does is set men (ie, people, humans, of both genders) apart as having a say-so in their own fates.  Fate rules all, and yet not finally, because men generally have the power to think and choose.  (Rather like Christianity, isn't it?  I'm sure there are endless parallels in other religions, too.) 

Where I part with Erik's and Chris's theistic notions is largely in this notion of Providence.  What does it mean?  I agree that God (as Universal Nature and as the divine Pneuma that pervades it) has provided for men and their survival as a species.  But I argue that that is about as far as it goes.  Erik and Chris might agree, but we part on the definition of Providence.  If the Stoic God (the divine Intelligence innate in the cosmos) were fully provident, we humans would have had a better nature to begin with; we would not be such a miserable, splintered, hostile, dissatisfied and ape-like species.  Erik's Providence goes only so far -- which is fine, actually, for Stoicism quite properly looks askance at most notions of Absolute Purity and Infinite this-and-that.  We have no Types, no Perfect God, no Perfect Other World; there is only what was, what is, and what comes to be. 

But then Erik quotes this, from our old drill instructor, Epictetus:

"For if we had any understanding, ought we not, both in public and in private, incessantly to sing and praise the Deity, and rehearse his benefits?" 

Well, yes and no.  We might, because we are small and insignificant, and incapable of the kind and degree of creation that Epictetus would have us thank God for.  But a question arises:  What's the purpose of this incessant praise?  Wasn't God doing what he is supposed to, that is, providing?  Moreover, isn't that Providence limited?  Yes, he's given us a bit for each, in terms of Intelligence, with which to affect Fate on our own; he's sort of 'deputized' us as Junior Gods, you might say.  But again, isn't that now our job, to be intelligent, to be good, to be so at the same time that we're being the particular kind of beasts that we (quite demonstrably) are?  God does his bit, and we do ours -- and that's the ticket.  God deserves praise only insofar as the entire World deserves praise, and most of the world is, to the Stoic, necessarily a thing Indifferent -- a world "not up to us" to control.  Moreover, indifference is the Stoic God's personal relation with us -- he's absent, except (again) as Universal Nature and as Our Individual Natures. 

Is this a big deal?  No, except that I can't join the Chorus of Theistic Stoics singing, "Praise God for this wonderful life!" when, no, it's not wonderful, but mixed and problematic.  Men and Women, Democrats and Republicans, Christians and Muslims?  War, serial killers, torture, disease, tooth-and-claw?  This may be a providence, a gift of animation, but it cannot be called "a wonderful life". 

"Thank you for the loan, God; I'll try to take care of it as I ought to, this Life, before you get it back from me."  I think that sums up the relationship quite well, "incessant praise" aside.   If you want God, read Thomas Paine and Camus and you will have a good beginning.  Stoicism is to be praised, I think, for putting all that -- earthly experience -- into perspective without resorting to either inflation of the Human Ego past its proper degree, or erecting Idols and demanding sacrificial victims, or simply sugar-coating the whole mess and ignoring evil.  Tie your shoelaces and save the drowning, as Thoreau advised; there's no need to get absurd in response to reality's absurdities. 

Vale, et aude sapere.