Saturday, May 25, 2019

There is no reason, nor could there ever be one : The best theory of Evil

For the Christian, there is no answer to the question of evil, not on this side of the graze, and, even if such a thing were to exist, surely this sad world could not hold such a revelation - a burden to be borne, not a question to be answered. Rather, Christianity offers a dead God pitifully strung upon a cross as a promise of God’s good will, and the sacraments, mysteries being more comfort than mere answers.

But, as philosophy goes, far away from the fleshly screams of living reality, there is one theodicy that makes much headway on the problem, precisely because, with rigorous logic, it shows that not only is evil, necessarily, unintelligible, but that an answer is, in fact, not rationally possible. In this, the outrage of evil is safeguarded from superficial theories that refuse to give Horror the fair honor its due.

Basically, it is the well known evil as privation argument, known from Plotinus to Augustine to Aquinas, however, articulated by St. Dionysius, its very success is that he, unlike others, at the very end of his reasoning, refuses to succeed with it.

Naturally, one must be familiar with the entire argument, and terminology, but grounded in the observations of the things in the world he logically works his way to the idea that to be is to be intelligible, and the source of beings is, of course, beyond being, the source of all actuality is, by definition, the Good, and the source of all form, is Beauty itself.

Goodness, recall, is the ability to go from potential to actual, a good acorn is one which grows into a tree, and by doing so “reverts” to God as the Good, the Telos thawed which things are aimed from potential being to actual being.


Eric Perls ably lays out a sketch of Dionysus’s on Evil :

A careful philosophical consideration of this doctrine in its Dionysian form reveals that the identification of evil as non-being is not a shallow “cosmic optimism,” an absurd denial of the obvious fact of evil in the world, but a profound and compelling theory which is more philosophically satisfying than many other accounts of evil. 

The doctrine of evil as privation of being follows as a necessary consequence from the production of all things by God. If absolutely all that is, with no exception whatsoever, is made to be by God, the Good, then evil cannot be included within the whole of reality as anything that is at all. But the derivation of all reality from a God who is Goodness itself is not a philosophically unjustified article of faith, which could easily be falsified by the evident presence of evil in the world. It is rather, as we have seen, a philosophical consequence of the intelligibility of being: since being is intelligible, therefore it has the Good beyond being as its first principle, and every being is a different manifestation of goodness. 

The traditional claim that  “every being, insofar as it is a being, is good” is virtually a restatement of the law that to be is to be intelligible, for the intelligibility of anything consists in its goodness. That which is altogether devoid of goodness has no intelligibility, no unity, no identity, and hence is not anything at all. Nothing can be and be evil, insofar as it is. A wholly evil being is a contradiction in terms, for it would be a wholly unintelligible being, and so not a being. It is from these fundamental considerations that the Neoplatonic doctrine of evil as deficiency is developed. 

The causes of evil are not productive powers, but lack of power, of productive activity: “Therefore the generation of what is contrary [to good] comes about . . . on account of weakness of that which makes. Again, “evil is alien and supervenient, an unattainment of the befitting end for each thing. But the unattainment is through the weakness of that which makes” Since evil itself is a deficiency, its “cause” is a lack of efficiency, of productive power. “And as good, [an evil thing] is from the gods, but as evil, from another, weak cause; for every evil is generated through weakness and privation” (And since the “cause” of evil is in fact a lack of causal power, evil, as deficiency, can even be said to be “without cause”
Evil can be found, then, only as a deficiency in a being which, in that it is a being, must have some goodness whereby it is intelligible and so is. 

The greatest change Dionysius makes in Proclus’ theory is to extend the doctrine of evil as a partial privation of goodness to all levels of reality. On this last point he expressly follows Proclus in denying Plotinus’ “notorious” position that “evil is in matter, as they say, in that it is matter” . Dionysius argues, first, that “if [matter] is in no way whatsoever, it is neither good nor evil. But if it is somehow a being and all beings are from the Good, this too would be from the Good” . He goes on to take up Proclus’ cogent argument that if matter is necessary, it cannot be evil: “If they say that matter is necessary for the completion of all the cosmos, how is matter evil? For evil is one thing, and the necessary another”

Whatever is necessary for the perfection of the whole is not evil but good. If, as Plotinus argues, matter is necessary, then it cannot be evil. This argument is effective not only against Plotinus’ doctrine that matter is both evil and a necessary consequence of the Good, without which the (good) cosmos could not be produced, but also against all attempts, such as have been made from antiquity to the present, to explain the evils that occur in the world as necessary contributions to the perfection of the whole. Any such theory, as Dionysius here points out, does not explain evil but rather explains it away by claiming, in effect, that it is not really evil at all. 
Nothing, then, is evil insofar as it is a being. Conversely, anything is evil insofar as it fails to be. Dionysius’ doctrine of evil as non-being must be understood in light of the principle that any being is in virtue of its proper determinations or perfections, which are its way of being good and therefore its mode of being. Anything is evil, i.e. not good, then, insofar as it lacks the proper goodness which is its constitutive determination, and to that extent fails to be itself and so to be. 

Thus Dionysius says, for example, that “the demons are not evil by nature” and are called “evil” “not insofar as they are, for they are from the Good and received a good reality, but insofar as they are not, by being weak (as the Oracles say) in preserving their principle. For in what, tell me, do we say they are evil, except in the cessation of the possession and activity of divine good things?” He then says, still more clearly, that “they are not evil by nature, but by the deficiency of angelic goods”

They are evil, then, insofar as they lack the perfections proper to and constitutive of them as angels. And since these perfections are their very being, to the extent that an angel lacks them (i.e. is a demon), to that extent it fails to be. Dionysius goes on to point out that the demons do have some perfections, for otherwise they would not exist at all, and to this extent they are good:

“They are not altogether without a share in the Good, insofar as they both are and live and think”, and again, “In that they are, they both are from the Good and are good . . . and by privation and fleeing away and falling away from the goods that are appropriate to them they are called evil”. 
Exactly the same principle applies to human souls.  

“This is evil, in intellects and souls and bodies: the weakness and falling away from the condition of their proper goods.” And in lacking its “proper goods,” a being lacks the very unity and identity whereby it is, and to that extent it fails to be. 
The “proper goods” of any being, as we have seen, are the constitutive determinations whereby it is itself and so is. But these determinations, at once its goodness and its being, are the presence of God in it, making it to be. How then can any being fail, to some degree, to possess them? 

Here we must return to the doctrine of reversion, which as we have seen means that a being actively takes part in its own being made to be. Its possessing its proper determinations, and so its being, is not a passive reception but an active performance of its nature, so that, as we saw, God cannot make it to be without its active cooperation or participation. To be is the activity of a being; and herein lies the possibility of evil. For the being may fail fully to exercise this activity, to appropriate the divine processions proper to and constitutive of it, to enact its nature, and so to be. A being is evil, then, insofar as it does not perform the proper activities which are its mode of being, and to that extent it fails to be. 
As a being’s partial lack of its proper perfections, evil is ultimately a failure of reversion, the being’s failure to appropriate, to desire, to love God as the Goodness whereby it is. Since, as we have seen, to be is to love God, and anything can be only in and by desiring God, then insofar as anything does not desire God, it falls short of complete being. 

The natural activity of any being is its reversion, its mode of being, of desire for God. A thing’s lack of its proper perfections, which qualifies it as evil, is a failure of this desire, and therefore a deficiency of being. 

Whatever is desired is by definition regarded as good, for to desire something means to take it as one’s good. 
Evil qua evil, as what is not good, has no attractive or motivating power and cannot be a goal, a purpose, an object of desire for anything. Evil, therefore, cannot be the cause of any activity. 

No activity, qua activity, then, is evil. Evil, therefore, lies not in a being’s acting contrary to its nature but only in its not acting according to its nature, and so not fully being. 
At bottom, then, evil as deficiency of being is a failure to revert to, to love, to desire God, who as the Good is the sole cause and end of all desire. 
Evil, then, is fundamentally passivity, the failure in a being of the reversion, the agency, the interiority which is its taking part in its being made to be. This interiority, as we saw in chapter 3, is the freedom which is analogously present at every level of reality. 

A being is evil, then, insofar as it fails to act, to exercise its freedom. But that agency or freedom, we also saw, is God himself at work in the being, making it to be. Hence, insofar as anything is evil, i.e. insofar as it is not, God is not productively present in it. All reality is (nothing but) the manifest presence of goodness, i.e. of God. Where reality is lacking, goodness is deficiently present. But this deficiency is due to the being’s failure to appropriate the love which is God as its own being and activity. The less the being acts, the less God acts in it, and so the less it is. In these terms we can understand Dionysius’ account of why there is no contradiction between universal divine providence and the freedom of beings, which includes the possibility of evil.

A man is vicious, then, not in that he desires evil but insofar as he does not desire the Good. But to that extent he is not desiring, not acting, not moving himself but being moved by passions, which means precisely that which we undergo (poscein) as opposed to that which we ourselves do. Dionysius’ account of the fall of man in the Ecclesiastical Hierarchy is thus fully in accord with the metaphysics of evil developed in the Divine Names: “The life of many passions received human nature which in its beginning unintelligibly slipped away from the divine goods . . . Thence it miserably exchanged the eternal for the mortal . . . But also, having willingly fallen from the divine and upward-leading life, it was drawn to the opposite extreme, the alteration of many passions. . . It pitiably fell into danger of non-existence and destruction”.

Here Dionysius repeatedly links the fall, as a fall toward non- being, with the passions in their multiplicity.
For to the extent that a man is subject to passions he is failing to be a self at all, a center of unity that exists in and by performing its own activity. Largely passive, driven about not by himself but by the passions, by what happens to him from without, he is vicious in his lack of unity, of interiority, of selfhood, failing to take part in his own being and to that extent failing to be. Nothing can be wholly passive, for that would mean having no unity, no identity, no activity, no selfhood, and so not being at all. But to the extent that anything is passive, it fails to be one, to be itself, and so to be, and to that extent it is evil. 

Having come this far in the discussion of evil, we inevitably ask: Why do some beings not fully desire God? What is the cause of this failure? By raising this question we reach the very heart of Dionysius’ doctrine of evil: as non-being, as inactivity, evil is without cause. For it is only beings and their activities, things that are and that take place, that must have causes, without which they would not be or happen. To look for the cause of evil is to ask why it occurs. But evil is not something that occurs, but not-something that does not occur. It is not an act of non-love, but a non-act of love.

As we have seen, whatever any being does, it does for some cause, and that cause is a good. As non-activity, evil is precisely what is not caused to happen and hence does not happen. Hence there can be no reason why a being fails fully to love God, i.e. to be. If there were such a reason, the “failure” would not be a failure but an activity, and as such not evil but good.

“Everything which is according to nature comes about from a definite cause. If evil is without cause and indefinite, it is not according to nature.” Everything that is, insofar as it is, is according to nature, is caused, and is good. The causelessness of evil, conversely, is one with the identification of evil as a thing’s not fulfilling its nature and so not fully being.”
He claim that evil, as non-activity, has no cause, may seem highly unsatisfactory, a facile evasion of an unsolvable problem which in fact vitiates Dionysius’ entire doctrine of evil, or indeed the privation theory of evil in any form. To see why, on the contrary, it is in fact a truly profound and philosophically insightful treatment of the problem, we must return to the fundamental connection between goodness and intelligibility.
 In demanding to know the cause of whatever we are trying to understand, we are in fact demanding intelligibility. Anything is intelligible, able to be understood by thought, only in virtue of the “why” for it. As Aristotle says, “We do not think that we know until we grasp the ‘why’ about each thing, and this is to grasp its first cause” (Physics II.3, 194b19–21). This is why philosophy, the effort to understand reality as a whole, is for the ancients fundamentally a doctrine of causes. For the Neoplatonists, as we have seen, the One is the “cause” of all things precisely as the universal principle of intelligibility. But further, the cause in virtue of which anything is intelligible is always its good, so that the end, the t°loV of anything is its cause of being. 
To understand anything, to grasp the “why” of it, is to see how it is good, and therefore the Good is the universal principle of intelligibility and so of being. Consequently, if evil, the failure to desire the Good and so to be, took place for some reason, if it had a cause in terms of which it could be explained, that cause, that reason, would be a good. Evil itself, then, would not be evil but good, and explainable only because and insofar as it was good. Conversely, evil is evil exactly in that it is not good and therefore not intelligible, not understandable in terms of any reason or cause. 
When we describe something as evil, we mean that it is to some degree not good and to that extent does not make sense, that we can see no reason, no “why” for it. We may recall Dionysius’ statement in the Ecclesiastical Hierarchy that man “unintelligibly fell from the divine goods.”
To be intelligible, to have a cause, and to be good, are one and the same. Unintelligibility, or causelessness, is therefore the very meaning of evil; and it is as unintelligibility that evil is non-being. The following passage thus summarizes Dionysius’ entire doctrine of evil as cause- less non-being: 
“Evil, then, is privation and lack and weakness and asymmetry and failure, usually translated as “sin” but literally having the negative meaning “missing” or “failing” and aimless and beautyless and lifeless and mindless and irrational and purposeless and unstable and causeless and indeterminate and unproductive and inactive and ineffective and unordered and unlike and limitless and dark and insubstantial and itself no being whatever in any way whatsoever.”
Dionysius’ inability, or rather refusal, to assign a cause to evil, then, marks not the failure but the success of his treatment of the problem. To explain evil, to attribute a cause to it, would necessarily be to explain it away, to deny that evil is genuinely evil at all.

 For to explain something is to show how it is in some way good. “Tout comprendre, c’est tout pardonner.” Only by not explaining evil, by insisting rather on its radical causelessness, its unintelligibility, can we take evil seriously as evil. This is why most “theodicies” fail precisely insofar as they succeed. To the extent that they satisfactorily account for or make sense of evil, they tacitly or expressly deny that it is evil and show that it is in fact good.

Dionysius’ treatment of evil, on the other hand, succeeds by failing, recognizing that the sheer negativity that is evil must be uncaused and hence inexplicable, for otherwise it would not be negativity and would not be evil.

It has been wisely remarked that any satisfactory account of evil must enable us to retain our outrage at it. Most theodicies fail this test, for in supposedly allowing us to understand evil they justify it and thus take away our outrage. For Dionysius, however, evil remains outrageous precisely because it is irrational, because there is no reason, no justification for it.

The privation theory of evil, expressed in a radical form by Dionysius, is not a shallow disregard or denial of the evident evils in the world. It means rather that, confronted with the evils in the world, we can only say that for no reason, and therefore outrageously, the world as we find it does not perfectly love God, the Good, the sole end of all love. And since the Good is the principle of intelligibility and hence of being, to the extent that anything fails to partake of that principle it is deficient in being. The recognition of evils in the world and in ourselves is the recognition that the world and ourselves, as we find them, are less than fully existent because we do not perfectly love God, the Good.


Thursday, May 23, 2019

Only those things exist, which desire to receive God

A friend recently asked,  Shouldn't "free will" have included an initial choice to say no to existence in the first place?
Of course, this is the thing- we are the creature, not the creator, and most of life is accepting that.

In a way, that is what life is, it's not true existence, a place to learn to say yes...or no.

BUT, at a more fundamental level, there are good reasons to think that, in fact, only those things exist which, in some way, consented to being; not only that, but also participated in its own existence by actively receiving being.

For that, we must go back to Plato’s children.

First though, I’ll note that when Neoplatonist’s, and Dionysius, speak of God ‘causing’ a thing to be,  they speak of
at once a giving, a “going forth” of the cause to the effect and of the effect from the cause (procession), and a receiving, a “turning back” of the effect to the cause (reversion).

Eric Perls explains,

“The entire cycle of remaining, procession, and reversion, the exitus-reditus pattern that characterizes Neoplatonism, is simply the dependence of the determined on its determination, considered dynamically as the effect’s coming from and going toward that in which it participates and on which it depends in order to be. As Proclus says, “Thus all things proceed in a circuit, from their causes to their causes” the Good “gives form to the formless, which is to say that it makes things be by making them intelligible.

Its being is indeed received in it, which is simply to say that it depends on its causal determination. But this dependence is an active receptivity on the part of the effect. Reversion represents existing as the activity of a being, of that which is: any being can be only by actively receiving its identifying determination, which is to say by performing the act-of-existing in its proper way, by enacting or “living out” its constitutive nature.

Reversion, in fact, is nothing other than participation, the participation of the determined effect in its causal determination, considered as an activity of the participant. 

Also note, Following these Platonic and Aristotelian principles, Plotinus argues that the form, the constitutive determination of any thing, is that thing’s way of being good. “But shall we then define the good according to each thing’s excellence? But in this way we shall refer to form and reason-principle certainly a correct manner of proceeding.” 

So a good eye is one that actualizes its potential to see, a good acorn one which actualizes its potential to become an oak, and recall God is logically the source of all actuality, things cannot just change themselves.

Ok. So. The incredible thing is that, for these men, for a being to exist it must, at some level, consent and desire to be, Perls again :

The reversion of effects to their cause [this simply means a being participates in God as it’s origin - by acting toward it’s telos, it’s end, which is ultimately the Good/God ] in turn, forms the basis for Dionysius’ account of the ontological love or desire of all things for God. Like Plotinus and Proclus, Dionysius explains that the very existence of all things depends on, or rather consists in, their desire for, or reversion to, God, the Good.

It is only in desiring Goodness, by appropriating or actively receiving it, that they are at all, and clearly this is true…of all things. 
No being, then, can be without desiring or reverting to God, i.e. receiving him as its constitutive determination, its goodness. All things come to be, they are, only in at once and identically proceeding from and reverting to, and in that sense loving, God. 
The very being of each thing, then, is its possessing, receiving, reverting to God according to its proper mode. Thus, the Good is that “to which all things are reverted . . . and which all things desire.”
Since procession and reversion are in reality the same relation of dependence, a thing’s being made to be by God is not in any sense prior to its desire for him. Rather, the generation of the being consists in its tending toward God no less than in its coming from him. Thus reversion, as the activity of the being, is the being’s share in its own being made to be. As in Plotinus and Proclus, the product has an actively receptive role in its production, and if it does not exercise this activity it cannot exist. 
For Dionysius, God cannot make beings without their active cooperation, for without that activity they would not be anything. 
In every being, including animals, plants, and inanimate things, there is an element of “interiority,” of selfhood, an active share in its own being what it is and so in its own being. At the level of rational beings, this interiority takes the form of self-consciousness, of personhood and freedom. 
But the principle that any being’s reversion is creative of it means that there is something analogous to freedom and personhood at every level of reality, even in inanimate things. For without this active selfhood, a being would have no unifying identity, it would not be this one distinct thing, and so would not be at all.”

An ontological synergism is built, as it were, into the act of creation. The Good does not first make beings, which subsequently respond to him in their autonomy (a Pelagian metaphysics). The Good generates beings oriented to the Good, drawn to the Good, always moving toward the Good. We are desire for the Good and only thus do we exist.

St. Gregory of Nyssa says that even the universe is repenting of its nothingness. That's what repentance is, a turning away from Sin, from death, from a mode of existence that de-creates us, ontologically diminishes us, and toward the life-giving God, toward a real fullness of well-being.

Sunday, May 19, 2019

If God were logically proven to exist, should you then believe in Him ? Not necessarily…

Obviously, from the Christian standpoint, knowing God exists is as meaningless as knowing a doctor exists, the point is to have a healing, mutual relationship with him.  Knowing God exists save no one, it is by grafting oneself onto the immortal life=giving vine of Christ that we gain salvific immortality, as 
Søren Kierkegaard  once said, —

'To stand on one leg and prove God's existence is a very different thing from going on one's knees and thanking Him.'

Still, what if one gave a logically compelling proof for God, one that proved itself as the most likely explanation for various evidence, one better than any competing explanation - will belief in God justifiably follow ? I don’t think so.

Ultimately knowing something is an integrative approach. If one has never experienced love, or loved himself, and who’s life has been cruel, stunted, who’s known only betrayal and disappointment from his guardians and fellows, who looks out into the world and picks out the ugly horror of life, this person, I’d say, even if presented with good logical proof, would be justified in rejecting it, as it doesn’t “fit” with all his other data points -it doesn’t make sense within the entire narrative of his life experience.

Pascal, for example, starts with his experience of being human, many religions recognize man's greatness, but fail to see man's wretchedness, or vice versa, some even claim we have two souls, evil and good, such an odd things we are, both animal and rational, some call us gods, some devils, but only Christianity sees man for what he really is; man is both wretched and great, a ruined exiled king - The Christian doctrines of creation and the fall alone seem adequately to explain the paradox - man's greatness could be explained in the fact that man was created in God's image.

philosophical arguments aren’t the natural foundation of religious belief, so ‘God exists’ gains its meaning not from philosophical arguments but from how people experience human life. 
….people don’t normally acquire religious beliefs by argument or testing evidence. Instead, they come to an understanding of the world that is expressed in values and a way of living. When someone converts to a religion, what changes isn’t so much intellectual beliefs, but their will, what they value, how they choose to live”
 Esther Lightcap Meek 

God said - “Let there be, and it was good,” but, as Meek notes, “Life seems to contain as much curse as it does love. In fact, curses are “let there be”s that are not loving. Curse, too, is normative. It brings brokenness and hurt to be.”

Of course, even that experience implies something larger, she continues, "Curse is connected with broken promises and betrayal. So curse implies a larger context of blessing and of pledge. Curse is devastating. But for this reason curse can never totally wipe out blessing.”

Perhaps, but, if true, that sort of thing must be experienced.

For many, it is the terrible things of life that catches our attention. Esther says, “
Each knower has submitted to authoritative guides in order to be taught or trained. Each has embraced a shared way of seeing the world. Each has acquired skill sets and formal theoretical frameworks.”

If true, then the Christian must humbly set himself under Christ, the guidance of elders, other witnesses, one’s priest, to cultivate a sense of wonder, just as others have, consciously or not, cultivated a sense of horror under different signposts and various guides - whether philosophical or personal.

Much in the world is evil, and naturally, being repelled, it is grueling to attempt to make friendship with this reality in order to receive it as a gift, to know it as such.

And to journey toward this vision of a good creation, which must be a great uncertainty, first requires a commitment to it, to let it reveal it’s true nature, to be open and not hostile.

“We pledge to give ourselves to the yet-to-be-known, and to consent to its being. We pledge to take the risk to follow something that may prove not to be there, something that may prove to be way different from what we imagine. 

“We pledge also to open ourselves to the transformation and to the new reality that the yet-to-be-known will bring us. We must be willing to have it change us, without specifying or holding at arm’s length the change we will undergo. ”

We also must WANT the world to be good. For this, one must suspend any grievances, resentments, and hostilities toward the Cosmos, to let the possibility of another vision break in.

“The healing path requires that we embrace the possibility of nonbeing that hurtful experiences involve. If we deny the threat, or resign ourselves to it, we aren’t doing the healing thing with the Void. The healing thing is to admit our need truthfully and cry out for deliverance. This is what happens when we come to the end of ourselves and start to look in hope beyond ourselves for help. We open ourselves to what we cannot manufacture and cannot presume to deserve. We open ourselves to what can only come graciously:
the possibility of new being.”

In the Void, we must cry out in hope for the gracious deliverance and inbreaking of new being. This is a key act of inviting the real. ”

“We begin to move from deep hurt and need, choosing to move beyond shutting down, to reach out beyond ourselves, to the possibility of new being, and invite its gracious involvement.”

Esther Lightcap Meek 

"Inviting the real, then, includes maturing in love. Greatly beloved lovers make great knowers. They can bring to the knowing situation the kind of welcome that invites the real. Welcome is the key posture of a knower wooing the yet-to-be-known.”

This is a “Pledge-based verification” :
“We never replace the loving-in-order-to-know orientation or revert to a knowledge-as-information model. Truth isn’t a bare collection of obvious facts. It is a profession of allegiance—a highly sophisticated, pledge-like human act. Proof doesn’t begin a journey, and it doesn’t end it either. Rather, responsible pledge figures in to the journey accompanying the vast range of subsidiary clues on which we rely.”

There are, obviously, many clues that also point to the meaninglessness of creation, and one can indwell those as well. We are trying to transform our outlook. Ceremony and ritual are useful here.

As Newman and James have shown,
temperament, passion, intuition, and sentiment affect the beliefs we take as basic and our attitude toward evidence." Newman has written extensively about illative reasoning, and James about the relevance of "the will to believe" or, so to speak, pragmatic reasoning.

ome things can only be known in this way, from within a commitment to them, a commitment which may be called ‘faith.’

What is needed, argues theologian Paul Moser, is a shift from thinking "What does God have to do to prove that he exists?" to "What do I have to do to show that I am open to God existing and making claims on my life?" Or as Moser puts it the questions we are responsible for is not "Do we know that a perfectly loving God exists?" but "Are we willing to be known and thereby transformed by a perfectly loving God?"
"If God could be put to the test for authenticity, we humans could be put to the test too. Some immediate test questions for us humans, including skeptics, are: (1) Are we willing to receive a perfectly loving God's authoritative call to us for what it is intended to be, including a challenging call for enemy-love and enemy-forgiveness? (2) Are we willing to engage in the attentive discernment integral to receiving with due care and respect a perfectly loving God's authoritative call? (3) Having received God's authoritative call for what it is intended to be, are we willing to be correctively judged and then remade by the power of a perfectly loving God's unselfish love? (4) Are we willing to let a perfectly loving God be God even in our won lives, that is, the Lord whose will is perfectly authoritative and supreme for us regarding our attitudes, actions, and lives? (p. 66)"

Stanley Hauerwas remarks :

Of course, for this faith to make sense, it must be connected with the practices that make it intelligible: prayer, the sacraments, and the virtues. 

In a chapter entitled “Why Theologians Must Pray for Release from Exile,” the theologian Dr. D’Costa suggests that “prayer is the necessary condition to secure the objectivity of theology, because theology cannot be done with intellectual rigor outside the context of a love affair with God and God’s community. The formal object of theology is God, and, like other disciplines that require practices and virtues constitutive for knowing the object of their investigation, theology requires prayer.”

Thus, logical proofs are of little use if their truth is not CONNECTED to our lives, one must love one’s way into knowing God,  this is a long, arduous,  risky journey, whose end is uncertain.  
James K.A.Smith says, 

"Worship is the arena in which God recalibrates our hearts, reforms our desires, and rehabituates our loves. Worship isn’t just something we do; it is where God does something to us.”

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

The Way of Knowing God

Of course there are many ways to know God - prayer, participating in ritual and liturgy, spiritual reading…but there’s a specific way to engage reality that can, in fact, orient one, and invite a relationship with, the very living God.
These excerpts from Esther Lightcap Meek, “A Little Manual for Knowing” will explain how we can adopt a posture that will bring us into contact with God.
Where we have presumed that reality is impersonal, of course this seems an unwarranted superimposition. But why should we think that reality is, first, impersonal?

 We love in order to know. Love, not bare information amassing, should characterize the way we relate to the world.
“The loving-to-know approach helps us notice and take seriously some things that in our heart of hearts we sense have everything to do with knowing—things that the knowledge-as-information approach doesn’t accredit or allow, and therefore can’t tap: things like desire, wonder, notice, and self-giving.”
It is a kind of receptive waiting that humbly consents to the being of, and invites the coming of, the as yet hidden real. But this emptied waiting is a pledged self-giving….Love is the gift of the self. It takes a gift of the self in order to know.
“What starts the venture is notice and wonder. Something about reality catches our attention. To start to know is actually first a response to a dimly heard beckoning of the wonder-full real. If we can see knowing as a relationship between knower and known, we can see that reality makes the first overture. We can associate this call with our sense of wonder. ”
“To notice and wonder at something is itself a highly sophisticated act that must occur for you to come to know. You actively attend to something significant. You assign value to it as something to notice, picking it out from a background. And you must consent to the wonder, give yourself to it, responding hospitably to its overture. This seemingly tiny first response is big with sophisticated interpersonhood.

We can and should cultivate wonder—a posture of wonder. This is a trained readiness to be astounded.
“Not even a solitary knower is ever entirely solitary. A solitary knower has already appropriated a language, a culture, a tradition. Each knower has submitted to authoritative guides in order to be taught or trained. Each has embraced a shared way of seeing the world. Each has acquired skill sets and formal theoretical frameworks.”

“Out of our distinct love, we notice distinct aspects of reality, and reality responds to us along the lines of our distinctive care.”

“The goal is no longer comprehensive, mystery-eliminating, reality-denuding information. The goal is communion—the communion of knower and known. Communion is the fulfillment of love. The goal is ongoing friendship. Friendship requires our ongoing pledge.”
“No pledge, no ed[ge] . . . ucation”
Any knowing venture requires the knower to take responsibility for it, to pledge him or herself to it. Commitment is the way we dispose ourselves toward the thing we want to know. We take a responsible, highly sophisticated, human, step of choice to bind ourselves in covenant with it. Commitment is different from curiosity, if we mean by curiosity an indifferent, uninvested, responsibility-free stance.”

“We pledge to give ourselves to the yet-to-be-known, and to consent to its being. We pledge to take the risk to follow something that may prove not to be there, something that may prove to be way different from what we imagine. ”

“We pledge also to open ourselves to the transformation and to the new reality that the yet-to-be-known will bring us. We must be willing to have it change us, without specifying or holding at arm’s length the change we will undergo. ”
“love and pledge. These defining postures frame the knowing venture and anchor inviting the real”
In the Void, we must cry out in hope for the gracious deliverance and inbreaking of new being. This is a key act of inviting the real. ”
“We begin to move from deep hurt and need, choosing to move beyond shutting down, to reach out beyond ourselves, to the possibility of new being, and invite its gracious involvement.”
“Personal wholeness comes when we accept the gracious prospect of new being and become able to give ourselves in love. Mutual gift giving is the being-in-communion that full humanness is.”

“There is one big thing that this involves, something a knowledge-as-information mode utterly overlooks: our body. ”
“We have to indwell and bodily feel that response. It’s not enough to know what it is; we must know what it feels like in our bodies. It is not mindless processing of opaque information.”
“Learning to identify, care for, trust, and tap our felt body sense is a key to effective knowing ventures. ”

Welcome -
Inviting the real, then, includes maturing in love. Greatly beloved lovers make great knowers. They can bring to the knowing situation the kind of welcome that invites the real. Welcome is the key posture of a knower wooing the yet-to-be-known.”

“It is gracious consent to the being and presence of the yet-to-be-known other.”
“It is a space that accords dignity and liberty to the other. ”
“In the welcoming space the host must be disposed toward the other, and at the other’s disposal. ……Respect, humility, attentiveness, obedience to the other’s desires, and patience, all characterize the good host. All these are gestures of welcome that furnish the hospitable space. So they are important practices to invite the real.”

“Strategy 2: Placing ourselves where reality is likely to show up”

“Indwelling involves empathetically putting ourselves inside the thing we want to know and taking it inside us.”
“We should see our knowing venture as born of wonder and love and constituted in pledge. In it we extend hospitable welcome to invite the real. We cultivate ourselves as knowers in the maturity of love that readies us for knowing, maturing to give ourselves in love as candidates to romance the real. We comport ourselves as gracious hosts, in humility, attentiveness, and obedient response. We strategize in our choice of guides. We seek out a vantage point to which the real may come. We cultivate active attentiveness and listening that evokes the real. And we seek to indwell and be indwelt by the yet-to-be-known.”
“indwelling involves empathetically putting yourself inside the thing you want to know, and taking it inside you. Indwelling is a strategy to invite the real. Indwelling is what it looks like to give oneself in love in an effort to know. It is part of what welcome looks like, what trust looks like, and caring attentiveness.”
“what indwelling looks like is this: relying on clues “subsidiarily” to shape a complex focal pattern.
“Before the outset of our venture, we are looking at an apparently disconnected, meaningless array of particular items. Yet our love- and pledge-motivated wonder, our unspecifiable sense of a deeper meaning and of future prospects, our inexplicable excitement, our puzzlement over a problem, hint of a hidden reality. This, our already longing and loving to know, is itself signposting, and thus becoming subsidiary to a farther, half-hidden focus.”

This is an act of trust and submission, rather than a matter of indifferently amassing already lucid information. ”

“We have to find a way to empathetically put ourselves inside the yet-to-be-known—to indwell it. We are probing to make sense of the situation, to connect the dots. ”

“But our struggling to indwell the clues in a way that invites the real is itself a strategy to invite the real. And then, although there is no guarantee, we may find ourselves graciously blessed with integration—with insight and understanding.”

“It is a moment of communion in which we are intimate with the object of our quest. Our love invited the real; the real comes into our love and flourishes there. The relationship we have with it is invested, compassionate, connected. It’s not a mercenary help-yourself.”

“Reality is not passive, indifferent, collectible information tidbits. It is dynamic, generous, always surprisingly new. It responds to overtures of love. We hold a special place in its regard: we could say it wants to be known by us”

“And it is less like it answers our question and more like it reshapes the question. It changes our reality more than fitting into it. Rather than it fitting into our sense of what makes sense, it fits us into its sense of what makes sense. ”

Pledge-based verification
“We never replace the loving-in-order-to-know orientation or revert to a knowledge-as-information model. Truth isn’t a bare collection of obvious facts. It is a profession of allegiance—a highly sophisticated, pledge-like human act. Proof doesn’t begin a journey, and it doesn’t end it either. Rather, responsible pledge figures in to the journey accompanying the vast range of subsidiary clues on which we rely.

“A profound discovery doesn’t so much answer our questions as reshape our questions. It reshapes the way we see the world and the inquiry we pursue from that point on. A pilgrimage of knowing can be a journey of course corrections. We may have begun facing west, so to speak; gradually we find ourselves facing another direction, moving toward an endpoint that we could in no way have imagined at the outset.

So insights recalibrate our coordinates as we pursue our knowing venture. Each fresh perspective is one that accords more harmoniously with the world. The knower has been transformed to dwell in deeper communion with the yet-to-be-known.”

“Keeping this very human, relational, ceremonial dimension in mind keeps our knowing balanced on the keel of love. We honor and invite a person-like reality through our gentle, pledge-like overture…

All this underscores the idea of etiquette. Our knowing ventures can be rendered more effective, we have seen, by identifying, and practicing with intentionality, the pledge that constitutes a venture, and the etiquette appropriate to persons.”

“Each move is a gesture of hope—in hope of gracious response. Each partner has to be okay being off balance for a time, and waiting for and trusting the upcoming move of the partner.
This is the dynamic of the knowing venture, also. We bind ourselves in pledge and discipline to the inquiry; but we wait in hope for insight. We may not presume. What comes is often not exactly what we anticipated, and we find that is perhaps better. We move forward again, taking a risk that our effort will be rewarded, and waiting to see if it is.”
“To say, “Welcome!” is a very personable, highly sophisticated “let there be.” Creating a hospitable space confers liberty along with dignity—liberty for the yet-to-be-known to make itself known truly. It takes welcome and liberty to avoid a pressure that compels a skewed disclosure or issues in no response at all.”

“ The goal of knowing is not complete information; it is communion.
If we think that knowledge is so much information to amass, then the goal of knowing is comprehensive information. We surmise that this isn’t possible, and so we can feel that we are condemned, like Sisyphus, to the journey. However, an epistemology of love transforms our outlook”

“We can choose knowledge as information, indifferently, impersonally, passively amassed, to the end of a comprehensive package. Or we can choose the posture of loving in order to know, and knowing to the end of communion.”

Is a vision of life, of reality, as finally about love and shalom something that we can believe? Or are we compelled to think that ultimately reality is personless, meaningless, chaotic, warring? The latter is well-suited to seeking power and domination.

But the vision of shalom cannot be false, if it is to be itself. We have to really think this in order to seek it. Is it wishful thinking? Yes, definitely. But it is not delusional. It is true—not in the sense of correct, certain information. It is true in the sense of troth. Troth is the old word for a pledge or covenant. We pledge to this vision of life. It is true in the sense of a T-square or a plumbline. This vision brings reality in line with itself. In this we recognize knowing’s necessary dimension of covenant. We choose to be . . . true.”