David Bentley Hart on the question, Is God a person?

  • That would be your “pan-” or “panentheistic” inclination speaking, wouldn’t it?
  • And that would be where you and I part ways. That’s where a distinction between “living things” and “non-living things”, and biogenesis and abiogenesis, comes in.
  • Thanks to an on-line acquaintance who introduced me to his abiogenetic theory of an infinite and eternal universe, I got his spin on the possibility, indeed: probability, that living things in the Cosmos arise from subsets of non-living non-dimensional moving parts., Since then and after his death in January 2004, I have decided that, as correct as I believe him to have been about the non-living non-dimensional moving parts, that his confident belief in his own theory limited his ability to imagine subsets of living non-dimensional move parts which combine in moving ways to form a multitude of living things, known and unknown, varying in degrees of consciousness from the smallest which are unknown to the largest, which many would call God, but which I call Yahweh,
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That’s a new thought for me! …Thinking of “consciousness” as being a continuum rather than an “on/off” kind of thing. Which I guess should have been obvious - we would think of a non-human mammal as having more consciousness than a snail which probably has more than a plant, which - if it had any at all would be more than a rock.

And for that matter, our own human consciousness isn’t even constant - I’m more conscious when awake than when asleep, for example - or at least as we normally imagine it.

  • Fancy that! And from your references, I surmise that you’re a Missouri Synod Lutheran.
  • I had the good fortune of becoming a Sampson when I became a member of a Missouri Synod Lutheran Pastor’s family in 1960, when the family moved to Nevada, just before I turned 12. [I attended Concordia High School in Oakland for my Junior and Senior years before joining the Navy.]
  • I remain close with my brothers-by adoption, and 'm comfortable in a Lutheran church.
    That said, little that you say about Hart, or Wright, for that matter, surprises me.
  • For the record, I am not “fan” of Hart’s nor have I ever exchanged written or spoken words with him. Personally, like others, I find him loquacious to an almost unbearable extent, opinionated and often a twit; and I don’t agree with everything he says. In fact, it’s possible that I might disagree with most things. I am currently reading (very, very slowly) his book: “The Experience of God: Being, Consciousness, Bliss”. He says, in the Introduction:
    • This is either an extremely ambitious or an extremely unambitious book. I tend to think it is the latter, but I can imagine how someone might see it quite otherwise. My intention is simply to
      offer a definition of the word “God,” or of its equivalents in other tongues, and to do so in fairly slavish obedience to the classical definitions of the divine found in the theological and philosophical schools of most of the major religious traditions. My reason for wanting to do this is that I have come to the conclusion that, while there has been a great deal of public debate about belief in God in recent years (much of it a little petulant, much of it positively ferocious), the concept of God around which the arguments have run their seemingly interminable courses has remained strangely obscure the whole time. The more scrutiny one accords these de-
      bates, moreover, the more evident it becomes that often the contending parties are not even talking about the same thing; and I would go as far as to say that on most occasions none of them is talking about God in any coherent sense at all. It is not obvious to me, therefore, that their differences really amount to a meaningful disagreement, as one cannot really have a disagreement without Introduction some prior agreement as to what the basic issue of contention is.Perhaps this is not really all that surprising a situation. The fiercest disputes are often prompted by misapprehensions, and some of the most appalling battles in history have been fought by mistake. But I am enough of a romantic to believe that, if something is
      worth being rude about, it is worth understanding as well.
      • Someday, I may actually finish it. It’s 332 pages long and has 18 pages of “Notes” and a “Bibliographical Postscript”.
  • Maybe someday, if I don’t die first, I’ll be able to tell you how Hart defines God." Until I can and do, I’m not going to defend what he writes. So you’re just going to have to check the book out of your local library or buy it.
  • My point was: Hart is clearly as eclectic in what he chooses to translate as he is in what he thinks being, consciousness, and bliss are.
  • That’s what I hoped to show in the post immediately following the one that you responded to.

All these have in common a concern with surviving death but the answer will depend on what we think would count as surviving death. Probably not all of these: all our memories, all our idiosyncrasies, all our cells, and our fingerprints. But if our souls are something we spend our whole lives coming to know who is to say we will be finished before we die? In short is there any finite thing without which we would not count as being the same person?

I talk to people who believe in past lives who I respect but I’ll never understand who those past or future lives belong to. What makes them mine rather than an earlier or later one. Seems futile. Maybe all lives are all of ours in some way or at least are God’s of which we are each part.

  • “Our cells and our fingerprints?” Looks like somebody didn’t watch any of the videos.
  • Sorry, I can’t offer you more. If you shouldn’t believe me and won’t listen to American researchers who have been collecting “evidence” for upwards of fifty years, good luck finding someone you can trust to tell you the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.
  • Till you die and meet him or her or them yourself, you’re just going to have to find something else to do.
  • I’m discouraged by Christians from believing in past lives, and have never had any memory of having had one myself, although I find the thought of the possibility momentarily interesting, Something that I’ve read somewhere, perhaps on the University of Virginia Division of Perceptual Studies site is that “past lives” in some very young children have one thing in common: a violent death in adulthood. But that’s as far as I seem to have gotten.
  • By the way, in closing, Orthodox Jews (typically Hasidic) believe, I’ve heard, that humans, maybe just Jews, or maybe not, go throug multiple past lives on Earth and will continue to do so. But who am I to say they are correct?
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Excellent point.

That’s true of critical editions as well; the editors include only a fraction of the variants. That’s starting to change as online sources are able to include far more than could fit in any printed volume.

If you do and feel like talking about it let me know and I’ll give it another listen to refresh my memory of it.

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I suppose you are right; and I’ve never tried to “defend” Hart in general. I’ve only said that his idea about God’s personhood as expressed above is quite grounded in the mainstream Christian theology.

If I were in America, I would probably be a conservative ELCA, or a liberal Missourian, or someone in between them. Anyway, I call the Missouri Synod “our fundamentalists” because they, beyond any doubt, belong to the Lutheran tradition, Lutheran “family” of churches.

Surely, I’ve read your helpful post! As for me, I just wanted to say that both Hart and Wright had some valid reasons to translate as they did - but I’m not competent enough to discuss their choices in detail.

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They trample adiaphora quite a bit, though.

I’ve watched more than half of the second video now and have to admit it is pretty interesting. I think I’ve gotten bogged down with certain assumptions as well as simply preferring to think life is more straightforward than all this. I suspect that thinking of ourselves as individuals with a long lineage of past lives really is mistaken. But perhaps there is a less flawed explanation which makes sense of the data. I’ll wait for that theory to emerge.

Which of Plato’s works has human souls being “recycled” without memory of past lives? I remember reading that and thinking it was just as morbid in the Greek as in translation (and arguing with my professor that if we had no memories of any past life then practically speaking the idea was meaningless since we can’t tell experientially whether we’re on our only life, our third life, our sixtieth life, or our thousandth life, plus that even if souls are recycled the odds are that anyone these days is on their first life because the supply of souls from the past isn’t large enough for even a significant minority to supply them).

Well I wouldn’t recognize Plato as an authority on the subject regardless but I don’t know the answer to your question. I think the idea of individual selves is problematic enough without linking them to others. It provokes the question: which tenant of that life is the rightful ‘owner’. Are we the original or just a clone? Weird idea.

But I have plenty of weird ideas without worrying about that one. For example I think our souls are bits of God bequeathed to us for which we are responsible but not our possessions since there is no ‘us’ separate from the soul and no soul separate from God. Not now, not ever. Not a stump speech, just my own take on it. One must believe something. This is what I can manage in the absence of anything I can recognize as authoritative on the subject…

Maybe I’ll park this here, an excerpt from a critical essay on McGilchrist’s work, especially his take on the sacred. It comes from an article on the Perspectiva substack. The McGilchrist Worldview** **and its relationship to Classical Theism and Christian Theology[1] by David McIlroy. The author is a Christian, barrister and a professor of Law and Theology in the UK and the US - see the linked description. I think this may be of interest to @Terry_Sampson and @St.Roymond, though I may have linked this article before some time ago.

In my previous article, I looked at McGilchrist’s panentheist account of God’s relationship to creation. McGilchrist gives a very broad definition of panentheism, wide enough to encompass many Christian theologies as well as those from other religions. What distinguishes McGilchrist’s own panentheism from classical theism is his claim that “the divine … is itself forever coming into being along with the world that it forms, and by which, in turn, it too is formed” (TMWT Epilogue p.1329). Classical theism can accommodate the panentheist claim that God is both transcendent and immanent, but denies that God’s continual involvement in the world is constitutive of God’s essence.

McGilchrist proudly describes himself as a process philosopher, and prepared to endorse my suggestion that he is a follower of Alfred North Whitehead. In McGilchrist’s view, “Process theology is a natural counterpart or companion to panentheism, since it, too implies that God is in everything without being reducible to the sum of everything: the spring and that which comes forth from the spring.” (TMWT ch.28 p.1234). He defines process theology as:

“…put very simply, the belief that the divine is misconceived as purely a static entity outside time (though that is an accepted aspect of divinity), and is, at least in some important aspects, better seen as a process within time, an eternal Becoming rather than merely an eternal Being – though it is that, too.” (TMWT ch.28 p.1234).

In the Coda to Part III, McGilchrist says: “I have … suggested that whatever creative energy underwrites the unfolding of the phenomenal universe is continually active and involved in that universe. This … is true to a Whiteheadian vision: that of the world and a creative dynamism forever bringing one another into being.” (TMWT Coda to pt. III p.1308).

Obviously, they don’t deem their twentieth-century doctrinal statements (about the biblical inerrancy and the like) adiaphora. Moreover, they can cite the Formula of Concord (X), which doesn’t discuss any other adiaphora but the church ceremonies (ceremoniae ecclesiasticae), and claim that only ceremonial matters can be considered adiaphora, whereas doctrinal matters are of the totally different kind.

In short, I would say that they adhere to a number of wrong doctrines; but do these doctrines explicitly contradict the Lutheran Confessions? I wouldn’t be so sure.

Yeah, I heard that cited once in support of the position that Christian ethics don’t apply to business practices, an idea advanced to justify how some things were run in the Synod.
It’s also been invoked to justify “contemporary” services and ignoring other parts of the confessions. The LCMS has congregations you couldn’t tell aren’t Roman Catholic and others you can’t tell apart from “non-denominational” outfits.

That’s a weird position indeed!

I suppose that “contemporary services” are structurally predisposed to emphasize the Law rather than the Gospel - but this is only a certain bent that can be neutralized by the other factors.

  • LOL! Now I’ll have to search for an LCMS church that has a service format that is not found in the latest version of the synod’s Hymnal.

Do you mean that the LCMS has recently achieved a degree of uniformity in worship? Some years ago, I used to bump into the LCMS pastors’ blog posts about “worship wars” in the Synod. This is just one of the latest examples.
To be completely clear: I’m not taking sides; I prefer the more traditional, Eucharist-centered worship style - but would not deny the other worship styles a priori as long as Jesus remains in the center.

  • Hmmm, I’ll have to ask my brothers who still go LCMS churches.

Is God a Person?

I agree that this is an important q1uestion, but I approach it from a different angle. Humans are created in the image of GOD, since God is the Trinity, humans would seem to b\have been created by Gode in God’s own image, which is trinitarian, Body, Mind, and Spirit, Creator, Logos, and Spirit, Makes sense to me. but not to others.