This is not the first time I’ve posted this, but it’s worth reposting. What follows is the Litany of Humility, composed by Rafael Cardinal Merry del Val (1865-1930), Secretary of State for Pope Saint Pius X, according to ewtn.com.
A quick comment – for me, this is simply a devastating exercise. How many of these deliverances am I truly ready – eager, even! – to accept? To what extent is this a list of the things I really seem to want, rather than to forego? To walk by without reaching out for the glitter and the gold?
It’s important to note that Cardinal Merry del Val – by my reading, at least – is not debasing love itself, nor is he suggesting, I don’t think, that we should want to be calumniated and ridiculed. But it is from fear of these latter instances that we ought to seek deliverance. It is away from desire – sometimes even a greedy or envious desire – that we should want to be delivered from the former instances.
The whole prayer is really a working out of Jesus’ instructions to the rich young man: Sell everything you have, even your emotional and social and professional riches, give the proceeds to the poor, and follow. Read it slowly, and you will almost feel yourself becoming poor in these ways:
O Jesus! meek and humble of heart, Hear me!
From the desire of being esteemed, Deliver me, Jesus.
From the desire of being loved, Deliver me, Jesus.
From the desire of being extolled, Deliver me, Jesus.
From the desire of being honored, Deliver me, Jesus.
From the desire of being praised, Deliver me, Jesus.
From the desire of being preferred to others, Deliver me, Jesus.
From the desire of being consulted, Deliver me, Jesus.
From the desire of being approved, Deliver me, Jesus.
From the fear of being humiliated, Deliver me, Jesus.
From the fear of being despised, Deliver me, Jesus.
From the fear of suffering rebukes, Deliver me, Jesus.
From the fear of being calumniated, Deliver me, Jesus.
From the fear of being forgotten, Deliver me, Jesus.
From the fear of being ridiculed, Deliver me, Jesus.
From the fear of being wronged, Deliver me, Jesus.
From the fear of being suspected, Deliver me, Jesus.
That others may be loved more than I, Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.
That others may be esteemed more than I, Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.
That, in the opinion of the world, others may increase and I may decrease, Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.
That others may be chosen and I set aside, Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.
That others may be praised and I unnoticed, Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.
That others may be preferred to me in everything, Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.
That others may become holier than I, provided that I become as holy as I should, Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.
We now have a platform – such as it is – from which to observe what it means for God to be all-loving.* As mentioned above, here we are taking just one angle, and it can be no more than a guide. The analogy is not the reality.
If souls – or centers of consciousness, if you like – require a medium to communicate (indeed, a medium through which they can be fully actualized), then God must set the stage.
Our author likewise creates a world in which to tell her story, and we imagine that she is creating for the sake of the characters themselves, and not for an audience. Or, in a sense, the characters are also the audience.
Now the good of the characters is for each of them to realize their innate potential, that which the author has invested in them. Though we don’t have time to fully articulate the point this is more than an semi-inspirational notion. This is, rather, the notion that some part of their being lies in wait, requiring perhaps the right circumstances, or an act of the will, or even the impetus of the author herself, in order for that potency to be actualized. ”Be all you can be” is a nice slogan, but it imposes a limit of only those roles the Army can provide; it does not exalt the very being of a person beyond this world. At best, in the sense we mean it, the Army could only be a stepping stone, however deep or shallow that might be.
To love the characters, then, is to desire and provide for their good – to aid in their self-actualization, to fulfill the purpose for which they were created.
Can the author, then, be all-loving? We have said she created the characters for their own sakes, and the story is told for them. She must simply desire – and provide for – the fulfillment of their purposes.
But this is trivially true, isn’t it? Even in a bad story, the author wishes for the characters to fulfill their purpose – usually, entertaining an audience – and she tries to provide for it, even if she is not quite effective in achieving entertainment.
Maybe this isn’t perfect love, then – for if, despite the author’s best efforts, the characters fail to entertain, then they truly have not achieved their purpose, nor seen their potential actualized. It may be truer than expected to say that the more an author really loves her characters for their own sake, the more they are likely to achieve the purpose she has for them. But the waters get muddy here, and we have some ground to cover.
Our better author, then, who creates her characters for their own sake – can she be all-loving?
If I may skip to the point, this seems to pivot on the concept of a villain.
Of course the author will love the hero – at least this love is more readily obvious. The villain embodies the problem of evil, which we have reflected on at some length, and so poses the chief obstacle here.
The villain, in fact, is almost a utility, a force and source of drama, and even to respect a villain enough to make him “three-dimensional” is uncommon. He is, in a certain sense, already actualized, fulfilling his purpose from the start: He is evil, because the hero needs something to conquer.
If that is true, this is a peculiar kind of love indeed; but can we say it is not love? In what respect, since he is the author’s creation? It is not his purpose to be “good,” according to the standard of the author’s will.
This is not far off from the problem of evil, and even the narrow way many of us – or even all of us, some of the time – conceive of the world. Politics is finally useful: To the liberal, conservatives are wrong, evil; and vice versa. And they are largely irredeemable, we think, and thus only obstacles to be conquered. Imposition of our (good, right) will upon them is the only suitable course of action. Otherwise the world is doomed – the story will end the wrong way.
We, however, need not be restricted by this view. And whatever we do, God is absolutely not so restricted.
Here, God shakes the earth, loosens the analogy from the reality, and it is done by the introduction of a simple and terrible faculty: Free will.
The author, even the best author, can only hope to imitate free will, to give us the impression that a character really is choosing from among options, that he may do something unexpected according to our understanding, that he is in some sense untamed. But God truly gives it, and from our minds and hearts spews all the good and evil that threaten the world in a suffocating tumult. Chesterton has rightly said: We are always at war, and sometimes peace breaks out.
The love of an author is thus limited, because she cannot bestow on her characters the ability to love her back, much less to love each other.
But God – with God, there are no villains. Even he who appears to be a villain may change his mind. The purpose of a soul is that exaltation of his being, and evil does not provide it. Evil is a regression, a descent to a lower state of being.
God is pure actuality, and we retain some measure of potency within us. Our betters on earth may help us on the path to self-actualization: I testify that a good woman can do this for her husband (and he hopes he does likewise for her). A good teacher, a holy man or woman – even a child can be the better of an adult in certain ways.
But to achieve full actualization – whatever that “looks” like – requires one who is fully actualized. In other words, only God can love us so perfectly, so completely, so fruitfully. Only that which draws us near to God can be thought of as an act of love, because there we find our true fulfillment.
*Indeed, it is not false modesty to say this is a shabby platform. It is, even according to its builder. I would like to build a better one, eventually, if my thoughts could be clear and constructive enough. Still, with the reader’s charity, we can at least have a look at things.
In the last post, we saw how an author typically borrows the Universe she lives in to create her own world; well and good. We also saw that this world is created in the first place to communicate something abstract, which could not be created without a fitting medium. From there, we began to explore particular instances of this dynamic – namely, what is the significance of particular physical things?
I pointed to a gun, which is signifies the means to defend oneself, and/or to attack. It might be said to convey the soul’s desire for self-preservation; or again, to impose upon the existence of another being.
Also mentioned was the idea of a talisman – let’s say a mailbox. In our world, the mailbox has a mundane significance: It is a channel for printed communication. But our author might write a story granting the mailbox a magical significance: Perhaps it tells fortunes, or dispenses memories which may be swallowed up and assimilated into the experience of the consumer.
Now, what about love?
Love, I would like to assert, is desiring and, where possible, providing for the good of another. And what is “good?”
Good, I might say, is that which is directed toward the fulfillment of a thing – what might also be called the actualization of a thing’s potential. And now, we are bound either to an endless cycle of abstractions – which would ultimately mean nothing – or we find a terminus, a ground of good. Good itself, if you like.
Let us take the author as the terminus, as we did in a previous post. The author creates a main character, charming and impetuous, short and slim. What is the good of that character? How would the author (or any other character) love this main character?
We would have to know, somehow, what the character was created for.
Now, setting aside our hypothetical author for a moment, who we said created for a unique purpose, let us look briefly at a common author. A character is often created for any number of reasons, including a kind of self-projection, or thought experiment for the author, or even for the purpose of targeting a certain audience. The unifying – perhaps the highest – reason is that the character was created for the good of the story, to entertain, to captivate, move, inspire.
In this way, most characters are reduced to utilities. No reader much minds them, except as they might reflect real people, or as far as they provoke and inspire. They are a medium for delivering a feeling, a thought, a conviction.
Consider now our hypothetical author and her unusual purpose: She creates her characters for their own sake. She calls them into being, from nothing into a kind of existence (again, within her story). Perhaps she shapes them a certain way, invests them with traits and talents, burdens them with troubled pasts.
Now, what is the good of such characters? How might they be fulfilled? What is the potential that may be actualized?
We might, in this context, phrase it another way: What is the highest existence these characters can attain?
The upper limit: They cannot ever have the same ontological status as the author. That is, they can never have being in the same way the author has being – the author possesses it more fundamentally. If the author ceased to exist, so would they; moreover, the author might continue to exist, but cease to think of them. Then, too, they would die.
This is the unbridgeable gap between the Creator and the created.
Very well. Respecting this limit, what is the highest existence these characters can attain?
I think we must say that they can have as high an existence as the author can possibly devise. Consider that: If you created a character this very moment, what is the highest existence you can imagine for them?
Would it be to make them royalty in their lands? To give them the ability to fly? To give them endless worlds to explore? To make them a being of pure light? To annihilate them in an experience of Nirvana? (And what, exactly, would Nirvana be?)
If we consider the author as all-powerful, we might see how the author could be forever inventive in this way, or at least inventive for a long time. Of course, this mere inventiveness – this endless string of novelty, or (merely) exalted sense of being is not quite the same as the Beatific Vision. The difference is critical, and shows us how even our hypothetical author does not really show us the breadth and depth of God.
But it is enough to say, by way of analogy, that if the author creates the characters for their own sake, she fulfills them by an exaltation of their being, and not by a measure of their usefulness for some other purpose.
With the cautionary words of the last post in place, we proceed to creation – all things seen and unseen – and the analogy from a story.
Now, the thing we must keep in mind is that when God creates the Universe, he does it out of an overflow of love, and not for his own need or want. Rather, if it can be imagined, he creates for the good of that Creation, for the sake of those sentient beings who will inhabit it (and for other things besides – is it not better for a tree to exist, rather than not to exist?).
This differs from the typical purpose of storytelling: A story is told for an audience. So, here, we must imagine that our author is telling her story for the sake of her characters, and if it were not for their sake, she would not tell it.
And that, at least, is a cursory look at what it means to be all-loving.
Returning to the point, we have an author who wills to create characters and give them life. Now, just how could she do this?
It will help to draw a distinction, in this world she is creating, between the abstract realm and the physical realm. That is, she can begin to create a character who is charming and impetuous without having to decide whether the character is tall or short, fat or slim. Then the question is, how will we know this character is charming and impetuous?
Can a person be charming without speaking? Without having a body? Even if a person can be charming without speaking and without having a body (as some would describe God), can a person be those things without a medium through which to convey them?
That is, we experience God’s charm through some coincidence, or by the impression of natural beauty, or else by a sense of peace at an unexpected time. If you existed only as a mind, without a Universe, how would you convey charm?
That an author chooses a medium analogous to our own is not important (and more than analogous – in imitation of our own), so much as that it is also a medium. She can’t tell the story without some analogue to our physical realm. The characters need a “place” in which to dwell, with “matter” they can manipulate for their (abstract) purposes, and “time” in which to carry out their (abstract) plans and desires.
Moreover, they need a realm within which they can relate to each other. These relationships are often the chief focus of drama (apart from “man v. nature” stories) and the means by which they find and communicate (abstract) meaning.
There is no relationship, therefore, between you and your significant other, apart from the physical world. But the purpose of your relationship – love, hopefully – is abstract, transcending the physical means you have chosen to convey it.
(I pause now as I am positively inundated with possible lines of thought. It is like standing on the South Pole and deciding to move north – you can choose from countless angles which way you want to go).
The physical realm – this very moment – gives me a means by which I can communicate with you, and perhaps all activity in the physical world is communication of one kind or another. Habits and drives pose an interesting challenge here, but this is not the direction we want…
And so our author, at any rate, creates a world for her characters. Typically, this world will imitate our own, but it often attempts a departure of one kind or another – whether in geography, cumulative history and culture, or some other significant way. As I said before, the only important thing is that it IS a medium, or else her characters could not relate.
Imagine it this way – she creates a character who is impetuous and charming, and another who is shy and harsh. Now, without creating a world – remember, no bodies, so no speech, no vision, nothing physical – how shall they interact?
One might even ask at what point they will achieve personhood – surely the quality of being charming is not equivalent to personhood. What must be added? (Yet another question for another day)
Perhaps, with so many directions to take, there was something hidden in our point of departure – that is, the earlier thought, that “There is no relationship, therefore, between you and your significant other, apart from the physical world. But the purpose of your relationship – love, hopefully – is abstract, transcending the physical means you have chosen to convey it.”
The author, in choosing to imitate the real world, takes many things for granted, and this is just one way we can see how any human author is inferior to God. Nevertheless, the author takes on – or challenges – the (abstract) significance of things in the physical world. For the author, those physical things in the story really do mean something (abstract). In more mundane stories, a gun means essentially the same thing it means in our world; but a talisman is something our world finds mundane, while the story finds it magical.
In the next post we’ll develop this a bit further, and attempt to bring together the abstract and the physical.
Before wrestling with what it means for God to be all-loving, we might find some benefit by shifting the emphasis.
Namely, we’ve focused primarily on God, appropriately so, in consideration of the analogy of an author. We have seen, for example, how the human author shows herself to be all-powerful in the context of the story; so, by analogy and at least to that extent, we may say that God is all-powerful in reality, and there is nothing impossible or incoherent about such a notion.
But what about the story? What about creation itself?
The first word I would offer is a word of caution: The analogy should not be applied too stringently. It is more of a guide, a way, an open door. It is not a complete map, much less the journey itself.
So, for example, I think it would be fun to ponder the notion of “elementary particles” within any given story, and what, if any, significance there might be here. Indeed, I do think there could be some.
However, it is important to see two things: Whereas the analogy is metaphysical, elementary particles are proposed as simply physical realities. The analogy will not teach us physics – we cannot observe the world of “War and Peace” and discover something about the force of gravity. (At least not anything which Tolstoy had not already discovered himself, from…observing the real world).
The second is also a basic distinction: God is the greater mystery, the more fundamentally real subject of our discussion. The author is not an exact analogue to God – even if we can confirm a truth about the author, it might not necessarily show us something about God. Rather, God is the One we are groping for, as if in the dark and cavernous space of the entire Universe, and we are hardly able to leap off our own pale blue dot. The analogy may give us an idea of what we are looking for, perhaps how the search should proceed, perhaps even correct our course from time to time – but it is not the same as contact with the living God.
There is, rather, something wild and lonely and exhilarating about that journey, and it is never enough merely to consider the map in comfort.
So with that arduous caution in place, we’ll take up creation in the next post.
And so, friends…
Let us use labels where they are useful and respectful, and let us abandon them when they are constraining and inaccurate.
In the last post, we parsed out some of the uses, legitimate and illegitimate, of applying a label to a person. This parsing was far from comprehensive, but I trust it gets us on the same wavelength.
We dealt with a label which is relatively uncontroversial, and so the application of that label (me: I am an introvert) is unaccompanied by conflict. Thus, it won’t sustain anyone’s attention for long.
How about atheists and Christians? Huh?
Rich and poor? Oh yeah…
Gay and straight? Hot damn!
That’s about all the titillation you’ll get out of me. (Ok, maybe that, too)
Notice right away, for example, that those are presented as dichotomies, but they are not necessarily comprehensive dichotomies. In other words, the rich woman and the poor man are at opposite ends of the wealth spectrum, but they may attend the same church, or buy the same apples at the same store.
Nor are they necessarily permanent dichotomies – again with rich and poor, it is seen that many who are poor at any given moment are, years later, no longer poor. They start in low-paying jobs, advance, develop their skills, and eventually obtain higher paying positions. (I don’t say this is true for all the poor, nor do I make any statement about whether this is a changing trend).
Now where does this fit into our conversation?
The same friend, whom I am conversing with via his past statements, has also said something like this: If all religious people were like you, I’d have no problem with religious people. (That, aside from its usefulness here, really means a lot to me).
I suppose it would be fair to say the same to him: If all atheists were like him, I’d have no problem with atheists.
Let’s take this from his point of view, though. I believe this exemplifies, at least to some extent, the way such conversations should be conducted.
On the one hand, there are the religious people he has met, who have been disagreeable. In some way or another, they have frustrated, disturbed, and even infuriated him. He recognizes very little common ground with such people; he takes his stance (or they take theirs, or both) at a great distance, facing them squarely. He will not give them a blind angle – there is no trust.
Then he encounters someone who is Catholic (another religion could fit here, too) and notes that the label “religious” is not comprehensive after all. Is this an anomaly, or is a new category required?
Whatever happens at the category level, I want to say that the important thing is to this friend’s credit: He released me from his idea of “religious.” He is not a bad person – rather, his category was insufficient. His idea was flawed, and he was willing to admit that, for the sake of my personhood.
Note – it is not incorrect to say that I am religious. I am. But the idea in his mind, which was a comprehensive picture of what “religious” people are – that was simply not the same thing. I am religious, but not religious. (As a sidenote, I found it a very charming tactic of Alvin Plantinga’s to introduce a word or phrase and follow with “whatever that means.” This, succinctly, says everything I am trying to say here).
To loosen the bow a bit – my friend may still carry this category of “religious people” around, and simply not apply it to me. I don’t know whether that’s true, as I’m not in his head (and he has often cautioned me against the dangers of even visiting that land). Nor do I think it is altogether better to do away with classifications, even with stereotypes. It has been widely noted, after all, that stereotypes come from somewhere…
No, the point is in actual conversation, and in thinking about persons. Perhaps some further application to follow.
In the last post, I lauded authentic relationships and conversations, and decried the larger, cantankerous slugfest taking place in international affairs/economic policy/PTO meetings. My main appeal was to abandon the practice of attacking people rather than ideas (ideas are fair game), and to die to one’s ideas, so that they may live or die on their own. The latter is simply to reject stereotypes: That is, people should hold ideas, and not vice versa.
The observant reader will notice, however, that I applied the type “introvert” to myself. And that was not a plant, not a rhetorical device. It was an honest use of the word, which I later decried.
Or did I?
Let us use it as a case study.
A – Say someone approaches me and says, “You are not really an introvert. You are an extrovert.”
Is this an attack on my person, on the idea, or on my application of the idea?
It seems to be the last; our interlocutor is not saying, for instance, that I am a bad person, therefore I must be an extrovert. Nor is he saying that the notion of dividing people into introverts or extroverts is a false dichotomy.
Rather, he is saying that the belief I hold in my head – “I am an introvert” – is a false one. So long as this is the subject – “Is Ed an introvert or extrovert?” – the challenge is fair game. It is a challenge to the idea that I hold in my head.
B – Say someone else approaches and says, “You are not an introvert, because there are no such things as introverts.”
What is the challenge here?
Obviously enough, it’s a challenge to the idea that these categories – introvert and extrovert – are legitimate ways to classify human beings. Now, the basis for this challenge may be any number of things (for instance, the challenger may want to say that all labels are invalid), but in this case it is still a challenge to an idea, not to me as a person. The whole notion of classifying myself as an introvert may vanish, never to be employed again, and still I may live as I am. I maintain whatever worth I naturally have.
C – Say someone tells me, “You only think that way because you are an introvert.”
What is the challenge here?
Now this does challenge me as a person, and it is this use of labels that I was decrying. This, of course, is the genetic fallacy.
The problem with this challenge is that it is illegitimate (not the person issuing the challenge, mind you, but the idea of the challenge). Being an introvert has no necessary bearing on the truth value of my ideas – I may speak the truth, and I may lie, and I would be an introvert the entire time. I will show you.
“I am 32 years old.”
“I am 63 years old.”
You know, at least, that both cannot be true; I will vouch and say that the former is true. Now, imagine I said either of these things, with a straight face, and met the same challenge.
Me: I am 32 years old.
Other guy: You only think that because you’re an introvert.
No sir. And yet, even when the accusation seems more relevant, it holds the same logical force: That is to say, none.
C-1 – Let’s draw one more distinction, just to be clear. Let’s say my idea was one that pitted introverts against extroverts. Then I might say:
“It is only natural for a person to want to be alone for several hours every day.”
Now, of course, the accusation is relevant AND it has a bearing on the truth value of my statement. Namely, the challenger might counter:
“You only say that because you’re an introvert.”
And the challenger might (ought to?) continue:
“If you were an extrovert, you would think the opposite.”
(I fear I am boring my reader, but this simply makes the point clear) The challenger goes on:
“Namely, a great many people – perhaps half of the living population – do not want to be alone so many hours of the day. They might require several hours in the company of others in order to achieve happiness.”
But you see, this is on topic. In the next post, I will explore how it might seem on-topic, but actually strays significantly away.
I am fortunate (#blessed?) to have the relationships that I do. To a great extent, even in disagreement, there is deep mutual respect and understanding. There are quiet paths, gently lit, which may be traveled with these friends and family, even if the echoes of strife and contentiousness can be heard nearby.
As an introvert, this is my chief desire; secondarily, I want to extend the conversation, to reach others with what I think is a message of hope. I want to bring – myself and others to carry – a light to the darkness of our contemporary rivalries and social warfare.
Naturally, when that happens, there is work to do. The global warming of the social climate (eh? eh?) fosters suspicion, trigger-quick stereotyping, a speak-first-and-pretend-to-listen-later mentality. Not all are this way; it has been my experience that when you bring someone else into the introvert’s den, they are almost always delightful to talk with. There is no audience to impress or appease, and still further, there is a willingness to admit that most beliefs are held provisionally.
Very good. This post (and series of posts, as the case may be) is meant to be a bridge, from the rancor to the reverie.
I’ll start with the words of a good friend which help form the bridge, paraphrased here: One can wrestle (even fight) with an idea, without fighting the person holding the idea.
This simply must be possible, and seems almost elementary. There are other versions – you can show respect (at least decency) toward other people, even if you don’t agree with the way they live their lives/raise their children/earn a living.
But this idea of fighting with an idea seems only too familiar – isn’t this what happens in politics/morality/religion/business? Yes, with an important distinction: Whenever you attack a person, you are no longer attacking an idea.
And so, I say, the current social climate is a violent one for persons, not ideas. In fact, there are all kinds of terrible ideas floating around (you might agree if we will avoid the details) and my contention is that they have survived because of a two-fold problem: First, we have been attacking persons, not those bad ideas.
Second, people have begun to put themselves between the attack and the idea, even identifying themselves with the idea. (Just think how many ways there are to “self-identify” in the blogosphere). This is a terrible mistake, for many reasons; I will give two.
A – It tends to presume certainty. And certainty by itself is not absolutely wrong (we can’t be certain that being certain is a bad idea), it is just difficult to uphold. Beyond the fact that you exist, what are you certain of? That’s not a rhetorical question, it’s where the discussion begins.
B – You are not an idea. Ideas are abstract – you are not. Ideas are units of thought – you are not. Ideas may be true or false – you simply exist, and there is no truth value to your being.
Yet, what we see are great numbers of people who shrink themselves into abstraction, and these abstractions, often, can only be held provisionally.
A facet of the hope I want to share is this: You can survive the death of your ideas. Indeed, this is a kind of death unto self, a dying to what one formerly identified as or with. It is liberty from the brute mastery of that oft-maligned, but still menacing enemy, the stereotype.
As we conclude our reflections on the moral argument for God’s existence, I want to pursue the analogy of the author and see what else might be understood about moral grounding, and the moral argument. In the last post, I reflected on God as “that which is good, if anything is.” From here, we saw how morality may be seen as a sense of our relationship to God, of our closeness to Him and our momentum toward or away from Him at any given moment.
In this post, I want to explore the difficulties in positing both atheism and objective morality. We have done this in brief, of course, when considering what else could step in for author – in the context of our analogy – and be the ground of moral ontology. Here we will look at this problem in some detail.
Let us assume, then, that the story is underway – but so far as anyone can tell, either within the story or outside of it, there does not appear to be an author.*
If there is no author, where shall we begin to determine what is good? Following the pattern of the previous post, let us consider what there was “in the beginning” – for again, surely whatever existed solely and necessarily must be good, if anything is good.
What first comes to mind is what naturally came to mind to atheists up until the early to mid-20th century: The Universe is eternal. It is a brute reality, exists without explanation; even beyond the dawn of the Big Bang Theory, Carl Sagan saw fit to say that “the Cosmos is all there is, all there ever was, and all there ever will be.”
Of course, it became clear that this is not true of our Universe – it had a beginning, before which there was nothing. (Recall that, even in the case of a multiverse, the same rule applies – it must be expanding, and any Universe with an average expansion greater than zero must have a beginning in the finite past).
And it seems true enough of any given story, as well. It is not clear that we can imagine a beginningless story, no more than we can now start one.**
So we are speaking of a story that has a definite beginning, as all stories have, though we are inclined to deny an author. But let’s allow a more modest wording – let us say the existence of the author is at least unclear, if not improbable. In any event, as we consider the ground of morality, we exclude the possibility that the pre-existing author is that ground.
Very well, what is left?
We may have something like Plato’s forms, mentioned in the footnotes last time. That is, “the Good” just exists, and we find that people act according to it, or else are otherwise animated by it. Likewise, perhaps, for “Justice.”
The first difficulty encountered is that, even if these forms are permitted, they still do not rule out the need of an author to tell the story. Sure, an author may have her themes, which in some sense exist independently from her (or do they?), but they themselves do not write the story. Yet, we have granted that a story is being told, and we have agreed to let go the idea of an author.
But this is the problem, isn’t it? Isn’t an author (some intelligence, at any rate) required to conceptualize a theme? By merely asserting the existence of a theme (or form) we don’t seem to get around the need for these forms to come from somewhere. It is not, even at face-value, any better than asserting an author. In any event, an explanation of the existence of a theme (or form) would be necessary.
Now, assuming both that there is no author and that these themes exist (we are far afield from any plausible cause for believing such a thing, but let’s chase it down one leg further), it becomes unimaginable to believe that a spontaneously arising story with spontaneously arising characters should also follow along with a theme, much less that anyone should find the confluence to be a valuable thing. After all, this incomprehensible fluke would still be a fluke – why be troubled over whatever is “Good” or “Just”? They have no greater explanation for their existence than I have!^
We have previously seen how moral ontology could not arise from evolution, so it requires no more than a passing glance – even if the characters in a spontaneously arising story did begin to develop ideas about what is “good” and “evil,” these things obviously correspond to no transcendent ground. Moreover, they must assume – without justification – that the survival of the characters (and/or their species) is an objective good, rather than a subjective one. It is hard to see how that would be the case in this particular story.
This concludes our reflection on the moral argument in particular, but the concepts here will provide a useful basis for understanding God as “all-loving.” It also marks one of the first significant weaknesses of the author analogy, though the analogy is nevertheless useful in seeing the greatness of God.
*While some thinkers grasp that atheism entails a kind of paradox like this, that is, something defying our understanding of everything else in and about the Universe, it has seemed to me that most casual atheists do not. They take the Universe for granted, and shift the burden of proof – “Now let the theist prove that God exists.”
**The burden of proof is shifted back.
^I take the perspective of both a hypothetical reader (yes, reading an authorless story) and an uncommonly self-aware character. From either of these perspectives, can there be anything valuable about the confluence of two spontaneous phenomenon? One might wonder at it, but would it make any sense to heed it, or to read into it, or to think it applies to one’s own life in any way?
The moral argument is rather straightforward, and WLC notes that it has been the most convincing of all the arguments he has developed for the existence of God (though he cites the KCA as his favorite, and I think I have to agree).
We have also seen, in the analogy of the author, how God would be the ground of objective morality, and further, how nothing else could be. Before we depart from the moral argument, let’s consider the analogy a little deeper, and see what might be understood about objective morality.
Namely, we have an author (a unembodied mind, in our thought experiment) telling her story. Since, before the story begins, she is the only thing that CAN be good, then we must say – If anything is good, the author is good.*
This is tricky for us, in our usual way of thinking (in the first draft of this post, I flew by it). That is, we are speaking, in a sense, as outside observers, looking in on this closed system, and declaring that if anything is good, the author must be good. But couldn’t we look in, see the mind of a serial killer, and determine that that author is not good?
Of course we can, but in order to do that, we must be outside observers; that is, within the closed system, if we are to say anything is good, then the serial killer mind must be good. His will then, in the context of the story he tells, is also good – in that closed system.
When we extrapolate this to our world, and God (and when we hear the critics who want to tell us how terrible God must be), we are swallowing up that outside observer status; we’re now inside the closed system. And if we can look and see that serial killing is wrong, it is because we have surmised from our Author that something else is right (namely, preserving life).
So the criticism that God is not good is stripped down to two possibilities: Either the critic does not know what he is talking about (ie. what actually is good), or nothing at all is good, not even God. The criticism falls away, in either case.
Therefore, the author continues to be good as the story begins.
Again, the author makes a decision – an act of the will – to begin a story, and in this sense, to create. And so the question now is, can that decision possibly be “wrong,” morally? Or – given that if anything is good, the author is good – is the decision, of necessity, morally right?
The question is interesting; I want to assert that if we grant that the author is good, then her will must also be good. After all, if an act of her will could be bad, how would that happen? What deficiency of “her” would exist, in that world where nothing but she exists, such that her decision could lack in goodness? Isn’t everything she does – in that closed system – necessarily good, if anything is good?
So she begins her story, and it is necessarily something other than what she is. It has an entirely different substance than her substance, even an entirely different existence than her existence. It is contingent, for one thing – it could have failed to exist, and depends on a necessary reality (the author) for its existence.
Now she might have any purpose at all for telling the story – bear in mind, the reasons may not be the same as our authors, who have audiences of their peers – but suppose her reason is like that often attributed to God: An overflow of creative power and love. (This itself, of course, is figurative language).
And so, her aim in creating is to bring into existence beings like her – that is, made in her image – whom she will love. Of course, there is nothing greater than her, in this system, so there is nothing compelling her to love her creatures. She simply does so, freely, because it is her essence.
As mentioned above, these created things are not the same as her – they are necessarily different. They are created, not creator. Their existence is contingent, not necessary, and has come about because of the free choice of the creator.
The creator, wishing for these beings to share in her existence as much as possible – to their unspeakable glory – gives them free will, and thus the choice to love her. As they do, and the more they do, the closer they draw to her, and thus into union with her existence.
But they can choose not to, and to act this way is to smear and diminish the image of the creator within them. (“Within,” again, being figurative – it is like attempts to “locate” the soul). And so, those acts which bring a person (and others) closer to the creator, which inspire communion with her – these are called “good,” because, again, the creator is good. Those that increase the chasm between a person and the creator (and pull others away with them) are rightly called evil.
It is this dynamic, of communion with God (or we might say such things as “being itself” or “the ground of reality”) and the forces drawing us toward Him and pulling us away, that comprise the phenomenon we sense when we engage our sense of good and evil, of right and wrong. Morality, it seems to me, is the sense of one’s position and velocity relative to God.
*We do flirt here with some Platonic possibilities, which are not entirely friendly to the God of classical Christianity. If that is an unfamiliar notion to some readers, this would simply be the idea that “the good” is an ideal form, actually and eternally existing apart from God, and it is something which would then be applied to actions or entities in the world. For example, if we posited a closed system, we would say that there is both the mind of the author and this form of “the good.” If we remove the author, we still have “the good” existing in that system. If we return the author to the system, we can evaluate and see if “the good” can apply to the author, and to what extent (maybe the author is mostly good, but a little bit bad, too).
**Here we flirt with them some more.