Philosopher_Twilight’s Take on God

[This is a response to Philosopher_Twilight’s (aka @TwiSparkPhil) “My take on god” on TwitLonger.  I’ve included his entire text, which you can read without my commentary here.]

You use the honorable word “philosopher” in your name. A philosopher is above all a seeker after truth. A philosopher inquires, asks questions, and if we follow Socrates, has an ineradicable belief that there is some truth of the matter, however much we prove inadequate to finding it.

So I hope you don’t take this as an attack. I am going to go through your “take on god” and offer some replies, responses, and criticisms however. Hopefully, we will both learn something in the process.

Let’s go.

My take on god.

Let us consider for a moment that god – or Allah, Yahwe, or any of the other thousand gods – exist. What kind of god is he? Why should we worship him or her? What kind of god would judge his creation on whether that creation believed in the existence of its creator and not based on how that creation lives its life among other creations?

I notice that a lot of your post consists of questions. That could be good, if the questions are serious.  If there are only rhetorical questions, leading questions designed to skew one’s perception of God, that is not good.

You should be aware that classical theism understands God to be a perfect and all-good being. What follows from this, among other things, is that God cannot, by definition, be or do evil, nor injustice, nor exhibit vices such as vanity, etc.

You are mistaken that God first and foremost requires one to believe in His existence. As the Epistle of James notes,

James 2:19: You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder.

Demons believe in God. They know He exists with certainty.  And yet they rebel against Him. “Belief” is not what is at issue in theism.  It is wrong to understand “faith” as “belief” in this sense.

Of course God certainly does judge a person on how he lives his life.  That is why God prescribes we live in a certain way, e.g. love your neighbor as yourself.

According to classical Christian theism, it is, however, not possible for a human being to live in such a way that is entirely good. We are flawed beings, thanks to sin, which an affliction of our own making.  We need God’s help—His freely given help, His grace—to be good, and in both senses of “being morally good” and “being in the way that is truly good for us.”

Some might say he gave us free will so we can choose to either follow him or not. If we don’t follow him – or religion’s interpretation of him – we are punished for all eternity versus only a limited punishment of, say, a year or two in prison for our transgressions. Imagine if we did that for every little crime: “Oh you cheated on your wife? off to prison you go for all eternity.” or “You ate shell fish when you weren’t suppose to? eternity in prison.”

Again, you have a very narrow and incorrect understanding of the issue. Sin is not the breaking of an arbitrary rule; it is an objective action that puts one in a state of being in disunion with God (Who, remember just IS goodness and happiness).  Hell is the state of being separated from goodness and happiness.  No one, ultimately, finds himself in Hell against his will.  Hell is not a punishment inflicted by God, but the consequence of rejecting God. To reject God is to reject goodness and happiness, because God just is those things. Hell is therefore necessarily a bad state and an unhappy one. God does not “inflict” Hell in His creatures: the choose it, because this is the only way they can be free of obedience to God. You are a very poor student of human nature if you think it is impossible to willfully choose freedom in the form of having one’s own way over happiness.

How the hell do we think that would be fair? Seriously, religion needs to stop pretending to speak for god based on a book – or books – written a long time ago by people who didn’t understand their role in the universe or had any understanding of science, logic, and reason. I’d also like to add that those books were probably written as a way to cope with life back then; meaning they were fiction used as an outlet for frustrations. We do that today.

You are simply begging the question here.  If holy books are fiction, then they are fiction. But if they are truly holy books, then they are not fiction, but divine revelation.  And if they are divine revelation, it doesn’t matter if they were written “back then,” since the source of what is substantial in them is God—an all-knowing, all-truthful being.  You cannot actually have better evidence than this.

Yes, I am aware that alleged holy books do not “self-authenticate.” But as with all things, it does not follow from the fact that some are not authentic that none are.

How many of us cope with our day-to-day lives by writing or watching T.V. or reading a book. We do that to escape reality for a few hours or minutes or however long it takes. I get the feeling someone had the bright idea to start using those books as a way to control people through fear but that’s just the logical and reasonable conclusion this agnostic asshole came to. For all I know I’ll be sent to hell simply because I’m an albino.

The ancients were not stupid. They understood fiction and poetry very well. And they did not think the Holy Scriptures to be fictional or made-up stories.

Many religious people would consider me brainwashed by the likes of Richard Dawkins or Neil Degrasse Tyson, or Carl Sagan, or any number of other big name atheists. The truth is that I personally, was never a believer anyway. Religion just never stuck with me. Now, one could say that I just wasn’t exposed enough to it and it wasn’t shoved down my throat forcefully as I was growing up. That might be the case though I’m not sure if that’s true.

I have no idea about your intellectual history. Religion didn’t “stick” with me at first. My very weak faith was completely destroyed by Nietzsche at age 14.  It took me the better part of 25 years to regain it. Or rather, to acquire an authentic faith, since I still regard what I was taught as a child as an absurd and incoherent version of Christianity.  I suppose my Methodist preacher did his best, but he was not a philosopher or theologian—and I was a child.

Personally I thought my way from Nietzsche and Heidegger back to Plato and Aristotle, and then forward to early Christianity, and eventually came to see Orthodox Christianity as the legitimate continuation and culmination of Greek philosophy.  I have very little doubt Socrates would have been a Christian, save for the fact he happened to live 400 years before Christ.

I’d like to say because it was due to my intelligence that I never got into religion but that would make me sound arrogant and I don’t want to come off that way. Ultimately, I do not know why I am the way I am and why religion just never stuck to me. I guess some people are born more susceptible than others.

This is probably true, but consider that the word “susceptible” is usually a blame word. We are “susceptible” to propaganda, to disease, and to other evil influences.  It might be the case that some people are more receptive to God and the divine (to pick a different word), and some of us have greater problems with it.  There are some people who, by accident of birth or early childhood, have difficult relating to others emotionally, and this fact causes them great suffering.  I don’t think we would call people of healthy emotional make up “susceptible” to things like love and friendship, but “receptive” to them. To be “susceptible” to a good thing is not a bad way to be.

I am only noting that “being less susceptible” could be a weakness rather than strength.

Now to get to the real reason I wanted to write this. Were I to die right this second as I was writing this, and stood before god, I’d like to think he would judge me based on how I’ve lived my life up to the point of my death. Yes, I’ve made mistakes in my life; who hasn’t? But they are not that earth-shattering. I’ve stolen candy once or twice in my life, lied to someone, other mistakes I can’t think of right now but never anything serious. I’ve never raped or killed anyone, I’ve never physically abused anyone or anything else that we would consider evil and morally wrong. If he can’t do that – judge me based on how I’ve lived my life rather than my lack of belief in his existence – than he does not deserve my respect. Such a god seems like a tyrant demanding respect from his people and when he doesn’t get his way, throws a tantrum and punishes them for no reason.

It only seems like it on this construal. You are speaking as if sin and damnation were a decision that God makes to punish people. This is a heavily anthropomorphic version of things (and I note you always say ‘god’, which as I’ve tried to explain, is an error), usually used to explain the idea of Hell to children and very simple persons.  It does convey the basic and crucial point: it is all-important to one’s eternal happiness to be right with God, but it is also misleading. Remember, God, by His very nature, just is justice, and so logically, necessarily, cannot be unjust.  The key phrase in your paragraph is “seems like.” But not only does Christianity not teach that God is an arbitrary tyrant demanding respect who, when he doesn’t get it, punishes them “for no reason” (even though that doesn’t even make sense: wouldn’t he be punishing them for not giving him the demanded tribute of respect?).  In fact, Christianity at least teaches that God could not be so.  I am less sure that this description doesn’t fit the Islamic understanding of God, which is one reason (among many others) I reject it.

If you were to die in the near future, the question would be about the objective state of your soul in relation to God. According to the Christian tradition, which we of course hold to be a revelation from God, your soul is not in the right state with respect to God. You would need to repent (μετάνοια), which means “turn around,” in the sense Plato uses this term in the Cave Image.

Orthodox Christianity far more commonly uses the metaphor of sin as a sickness in need of healing than of a crime in need of punishment.  What is key to understand is that both ARE metaphors.  If you are sick, you may freely refuse offered healing.  It is against the nature of God to be a tyrant (as you say).  God will not force you to health or happiness against your will, not even for your own objective good. You must accept God’s grace of your own free choice.

But hey, these are just thoughts of a disturbed mind living on a rock flying through space with other disturbed minds who do not realize they are disturbed and think they know everything because a book says it’s true. You could say we believe everything written in a science book, which would make us hypocrites. You’d be wrong of course, since that book provides evidence and logic. But no, by all means, continue to think you have all the answers and never grow thus not taking Socrates’s challenge seriously: “The unexamined life is not worth living” which means question everything and realize as much as you think you know, you don’t know shit.

And yet, Socrates does claim to know a few things, such “justice is better than injustice”, “It is good to know the truth” and “The God cannot lie.” As he says in the Apology, in answer to the charge of atheism,

“But that is far from being so. For I believe, men of Athens, as none of my accusers do. And I turn it over to you and the God to judge me in whatever way it is going to be best both for me and for you.”

The fact that we know very little of all there is to know doesn’t mean we don’t know anything. Socratic humility spurs one to philosophical inquiry. Complete skepticism is the opposite: it only paralyzes, in the belief that no matter how hard we try, we can never know—something the skeptic can never know, and of course, something the skeptic will never learn better than, if he does not inquire.

Pascal, a very profound Christian philosopher, put it very well:

We know too much to be skeptics, and too little to be dogmatists.

I can’t think of a statement more Socratic or more Christian.


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