Is God 'being' itself?

(RiderOnTheClouds) #1

Today I started reading Karen Armstrong’s The Case For God, and a thought came to me. What if God is being itself? Being is necessary, transcendant, and ineffable, and if Armstrong is correct, this is the earliest conception of God which we know, and all conceptions of the fundamental truth which we know of, be it YHWH, Dao, Brahman, etc, have this air about them. I get that this may be hard for Orthodox believers to accept, but I personally find it to be an easier God to believe in, and potentially it is supported by Exodus 3:14.


(Dominik Kowalski) #2

I´m a little torn here. A quick look at her Wikipedia page makes me think she has a view rather fitting to classical theism than theistic personalism. So with her first two describtions she fits in the camp of people like Aristotle and Augustinus and rationalists like Leibniz. However I´m not quite sure what to do with “ineffable” though since this seems to me the opposite from the divine simplicity, which is intrinsic for classical theism. Maybe I´m mistaking her viewpoint but I always fear that when you help yourself from all sides your viewpoint becomes impossible to defend.
Also I´m allergic to relativism.
Anyway the roots of that thinking should not be upsetting to any orthodox believer as it has its origins in the bible and Plato and Aristotle. I wouldn´t be surprised if these are attributes found in religions such as Taoism and Hindusim as well.

(RiderOnTheClouds) #3

As am I. I don’t agree with Armstrong on everything. But her ‘case for God’ is perhaps the best case I have seen yet, along with the similar ideas of David Bentley Hart.

I’m not entirely sure how ineffability is a problem, since it is hard to describe what ‘being’ is.

It is also worth noting that Being is potentially omnipotent, since potentially anything short of a square circle could logically be.

(Dominik Kowalski) #4

Divine simplicity is within the sentence, that God is being itself. It´s easy to understand, impossible to grasp, that´s basically the only requirement. I wasn´t quite sure if Armstrong would attack that basic divine attribute by saying that on of the attributes is ineffability, but I don´t hink anymore, that that was what she did.

Not potentially, it is actually omnipotent. The divine attributes (omnipotence, omniscience, inmateriality, timeless, perfection) can be reached through natural theology from Aristotle (Causality-argument) and are not in question, but it is not potentially, but actually omnipotent, since potentials are a sign of imperfection.

(Jay Johnson) #5

I’m dubious that “God is being” is the earliest conception of God. People all over the globe had various conceptions of God/gods long before such abstract philosophizing took hold. But, not gonna do the research to prove or disprove Armstrong on that point. It’s of historical interest only.

Not at all. You would enjoy this recent blog post from Roger Olson:

“Absolutely fundamental to Christian theism—although widely unknown and unacknowledged and often denied even by Christians!—is the Great Idea promoted by Augustine, Aquinas, and Lewis (to name only three) that God is being itself and goodness itself and that the three are really just three distinct ways of talking about the same thing (which is not a “thing” at all)! And that “goodness itself” is love.”

(RiderOnTheClouds) #6

Once this definition of God is understood, it is in my opinion hard to deny that what humans call God is something real, if misunderstood.

(RiderOnTheClouds) #7

Here’s what Armstrong says:

Perhaps these ancient societies were trying to express their sense of what the German philosopher Martin Heidegger (1899–1976) called ‘Being’, a fundamental energy that supports and animates everything that exists. Being is transcendent. You could not see, touch or hear it but could only watch it at work in the people, objects and natural forces around you. From the documents of later Neolithic and pastoral societies, we know that Being rather than a being was revered as the ultimate sacred power. It was impossible to define or describe, because Being is all-encompassing and our minds are only equipped to deal with particular beings, which can merely participate in it in a restricted manner.

(Jay Johnson) #8

I wouldn’t dispute that statement, depending how she defines Being. I was thinking more of the evidence of human spirituality in the late Pleistocene.

Her mention of Heidegger and my previous post from Olson’s blog reminded me of a quote from Wittgenstein. For him, ethics was an inquiry into the meaning of life, or into the right way of living.

What is good, is also divine. Queer as it sounds, that sums up my ethics. Only something supernatural can express the supernatural.

To a friend having second thoughts about his decision to become a doctor rather than a priest, Wittgenstein wrote:

But remember that Christianity is not a matter of saying a lot of prayers; in fact we are told not to do that. If you and I are to lead religious lives, it mustn’t be that we talk a lot about religion, but that our manner of life is different. It is my belief that only if you try to be helpful to other people will you in the end find your way to God.

Near the end of his life, Wittgenstein wrote this observation:

“One of the things Christianity says, I think, is that all sound doctrines are of no avail. One must change one’s life . (Or the direction of one’s life.) That all wisdom is cold; and that one can no more use it to bring one’s life into order than one can forge cold iron. A sound doctrine does not have to catch hold of one; one can follow it like a doctor’s prescription. – But here something must grasp one and turn one around. – (This is how I understand it.) Once turned around, one must stay turned around. Wisdom is passionless. In contrast faith is what Kierkegaard calls a passion.”

A great deal of Christian wisdom from a non-Christian philosopher.

(Mitchell W McKain) #9

This idea which is an ultimate form of pantheism, is far from a new idea. Existentialist theologian Paul Tillich, argues for understanding God as “the ground of being.”

But although I have existentialist roots myself, I don’t much like this idea or Paul Tillich’s theology. I frankly think this amounts to defining God into existence much like the ontological argument and empties the question of God’s existence of all meaning.

To remind people (since I have said this many times before), my approach was to equate a faith in God with a faith that life is worth living. This indirect equivalence is more fruitful because then we are free to explore the question of what sort of God best serves this purpose of a faith that life is worth living.

Just being by itself is too basic to say anything of substance about God at all. Of course it is easier to believe in, for then it comes down to whether you can believe anything at all.

(Albert Leo) #10

Well put, @Jay313. I tend to agree that “all wisdom” (or church doctrine) is, in a way, COLD. At least it seemed that way for me. It wasn’t until I was in my forties that I could describe my faith as passionate. I don’t know if I should consider myself an existentialist, but I feel comfortable with what Wikipedia has to say about Kierkegaard:
He (Kierkegaard) proposed that each individual—not society or religion—is solely responsible for giving to life and living it passionately and sincerely, or “authentically”.

I am very grateful to my parents for passing on to me their Catholic Faith. I think it set me in the right direction spiritually. But it was my nephew’s unsuccessful battle with leukemia that helped me live authentically–redirecting my life’s work from commerce to medicinal chemistry. As a Christian, I would delete the word, “only”, in what Wittgenstein observed: "only if you try to be helpful to other people will you find your way to God."

My answer to the question posed: Is God “being” itself?" Not for me. Such a God would not encourage me to live life authentically. IMHO this is the “take home message” that Jesus Christ became incarnate to teach us.
Al Leo

(RiderOnTheClouds) #11

I don’t see this at all. It doesn’t define God into being any more than the Teleological and Cosmological arguments do, with them using established definitions of God. I find that being just so happens to have many of the traits shared by the common perception of God throughout the ages, such as Necessity, Transcendence ‘and’ immanence, omnipotence, ineffability and creative power.

(Roger A. Sawtelle) #12

Clearly Armstrong is accepts classical theism, or as it has been called the God of the philosophers. The problems is that there are many versions of God. There is also the God of the Quran, the God of the Philosophers, the God of the OT, the God of Traditional Theology, and the God of the NT.

Is God ineffable meaning undefinable, beyond words, and beyond description? No.

If God is indefinable then God is not Good. If God is beyond words, then God cannot be the Word, or the Logos, Jesus Christ. If God is beyond description then the Bible and theology are useless.

God is effable because God created the universe and humans as rational and humans able to communicate with God . God is effable because humans are effable and we are created in God’s Image. God is not Simple because humans are not Simple and we are created in God’s Image. We would be ineffable if we were Simple.

God is Triune, both One and Many. Humans are triune, both one and many, Humans are created in God’s Image. The God of the NT is not Being, because Jesus is not Simple and Being is Simple. Jesus is not ineffable, and Being is ineffable. Jesus is not Simple and Being is Simple. Jesus is Personal, and Being is impersonal. Jesus is Love and Being is not Love.

(RiderOnTheClouds) #13

Being in the image of god is divine sonship language, it is linked to our kingly function on earth, not our spiritual essence.

(Roger A. Sawtelle) #14

You cannot separate function from form as people seem to think. God/YHWH did not give the duties and honor of being viceroy for YHWH to humans without the abilities, physical, rational, and spiritual, to carry out these responsibilities.

If anyone could be YHWH’s viceroy, then YHWH could have made the crocodile the viceroy.

(Dominik Kowalski) #15

The God of the philosophers are in so far different, that proponents of theistic personalism like Plantinga will draw a different picture of how God is, than e.g. Aquinas would. However, also among proponents of classical theism it is crucial that God is personal. But, because we can´t get there conclusively through pure reason without revelation, classical theists describe God as amoral. But every attribute we can ascribe to God through pure reason alone (omniscience, omnipotence, immateriality, timeless, perfect) fits to the God of the bible or monotheism in general. Aquinas in the Summa theologica linked this philosophical God from classical theism to the God we find revealed in the bible, but as long as I haven´t read his whole work on this, I won´t go any further down this road.

Agreed, divine simplicity is intrinsic for God, he is is own explanation for why he exists. But I don´t know if you can say this like a universal fact, since especially in the east within orthodoxy it is avoided to describe God with words as “good” because our language cannot describe his nature accurately. That´s not to say that goes against the concept of simplicity. But it pushes it into the area of intuition.

God is easy in the sense that he is being, existence, itself. I would describe it as I said to Reggie, easy to understand, but impossible to grasp.

Again, I agree, but we leave the area of philosphy with that statement, since we can´t reach it through pure reason and rationality. What you describe is the loving God of the NT, which had o reveal himself to us, for us to make such assertions. My interest also lies in linking the philosophical to the NT God and the way I see it, they complete each other in ways, that several attributes need the revelation to bring them to us (e.g. loving), while others like omniscience and omnipotence can be asserted because of the bible, but needed to be proven by philosophy.
This shows in what a terrible state our contemporary academic philosophy really is, because the arguments of the natural theology got lost for a too long time and only recently have been repopularized by some philosophers of religion. It´s a disgrace.

(Dominik Kowalski) #16

Also this view is more popular than one might think. The philosophical proof for Gods existence is a doctrine in the catholic church:

God, the origin and end of all things, can be known with certainty by the natural light of human reason, through the things that he created. ( Dei Filius 2)

taught by the first Vatican council.

Wikipedia has proven at the same time, that their authors wouldn´t recognize, let alone understand, scholasticism if it would fly them in the face. They think in their article on Aquinas´ five ways that the three first ways are all practically all the same, summarized as cosmological arguments, the “Kalam cosmological argument”. I can´t believe it! This is exactly what Dawkins did in the God delusion.

(Roger A. Sawtelle) #17

Dominik, thank you for your response, but there seems to be a disconnect.

I do not agree that God is intrinsically Simple. I think that humans conceive of God as Simple, and conceive of Being as Simple and put them together. God is One, but Oneness is not necessarily Simple. Since God is One and Three, the God of the NT is not Simple, while the God of Being is, therefore we can jest combine onw with the other.

The only explanation for Who God is is I AM WHO I AM. That is not an explanation, but a statement. We cannot explain God, but we can observe what God does and hear what God says. Best of all we can experience Jesus Christ, the living Rational Word of God. None of these is Simple or Absolute as the God of the philosophers is.

I do not put any value in the via negative of mystical orthodoxy.

[quote=“DoKo, post:15, topic:40072”]
God is easy in the sense that he is being, existence, itself. I would describe it as I said to Reggie, easy to understand, but impossible to grasp.

“Only a fool says in his heart there is no God.” If YHWH created the universe, which YHWH did, and the universe exists, then God must exist. The existence of God as Creator is most easy to comprehend, but difficult to understand what it means.

We need to redefine what philosophy is and how it works. Reality is composed of the physical, rational, and the spiritual; therefore we must use science, philosophy, and theology to understand it. Questions of God are primarily in the area of theology, so it plays a primary role, not philosophy.

The biggest problem is that Reality is based on Being, which is simple, but Reality is relational, which is not Simple, but both One and Many, and corresponds to the spiritual, the physical, and the rational.

Science is out of sync with philosophy, because now we understand that Nature is relational. Theology understands that God is relational. It is time that philosophy came in line to develop a relational understanding of Reality.


(Dominik Kowalski) #18

in general I don´t think we disagree about divine simplicity and the fact that we argue is probably due to poor formulations on my side. You saying

shows this, as with “divine simplicity” I exclusively mean that God is one pure being, existence, and isn´t made out of different parts. And with “simple” I of course don´t refer to a simple mathematical question, but to the fact that God in his oneness is selfexplanatory in his existence. That of course doesn´t mean that there is any chance for us to understand him in the usual way.

In this context I am refering to natural theology, which I place high value on, since it is important for me, living in a very secular society in Germany (though less secular, more “confused” about what actually to believe), to give people who do not yet see the bible as the key to get to a belief in God, another rational basis, in which we come to God through reasoning alone and also understand why he has to be omniscient, omnipotent, but most importantly, personal. Of course I see natural theology as the stepping stone to engage with the God who has revealed himself and I agree that salvation is through Jesus, but to many people, who don´t start with the assumption that the bible is reliable and not just mythology, we need to start with the rationality. It really isn´t a surprise that the rationalists in history were pretty much all theists. And it should be in the interest of all, if the experience of revelation and the human reasoning complete each other.

(Cindy) #19

The one school of Hinduism that we studied did indeed believe that Brahma was the essence of being. Their take on it is quite different though. Brahma is not Love or Goodness, Brahma just is. Further, we and all things are Brahma thus Brahma is not personal as there is nothing to be personal about. My professor described it as a drop of water in the ocean thinking itself to be its own drop when reality it was the ocean. It’s an interesting take on things.

(Roger A. Sawtelle) #20

I am not interested in proving God’s existence. I am interested in Who God is and how God makes our existence possible. The philosopher’s God is a dangerous myth that could open humankind to the God of the Quran.

Unclear. Please elaborate.

The God of the NT is One and Many, or complex made up of Three Persons while perfectly One God. God is not Simple because God is Three. Nor does God have a Head, which is Simple and a Body which is complex or Three. God is fully, completely, and purely Trinity, One and Many.

That is the only way we humans can understand God and we can understand God’s Image and our universe which the Triune God created.

I agree, but that is not the case right now. Philosophy is based on Being, which is not Christian, not Trinitarian, not True. Nothing can alter that. We need to reconcile philosophy and theology or the Trinity, we have the correct understanding of Philosophy, Catholic Theology, and Science. Cleaning up something without fixing it does not really solve the problem.