Tuesday, January 13, 2009

My Favorite Subject-ive!

My most excellent mentor Doc over at his podium “They Rode On” set our brains to task with an observation by Barbara Kingsolver:

Don't expect God's protection in places beyond God's dominion. It will only make you feel punished. I'm warning you. When things go badly you will blame yourself.... Don't try to make life a mathematics problem with yourself in the center and everything coming out equal. When you are good, bad things can still happen; and if you are bad, you can still be lucky. - Barbara Kingsolver

Then Doc offered, “I recognize that even the premise of the first sentence will offend the righteous, believing there can be no such place, but putting that aside, I like this. Nothing new about the sentiment, but I like the arrangement of the words. I'm listening to The Poisonwood Bible at the moment, so if the punctuation isn't right, please forgive. Beautiful book. I'll warn you though, it is as much a woman's book as Blood Meridian (McCarthy) is a man's (and if that distinction doesn't make sense to you, read the two and you will never need to ask again).”

To which I replied:
“My usual reaction to observation on speculation of this order -- and we are ALL definitely speculators. (Not due, btw, to righteousness, due to belief in/of the definition of the concept of "God." Just a small basic difference which you accurately presupposed intuitively.) The definition of "God" includes "omni-" for omni -- all things -- otherwise you have only a very powerful being, not The All-Omni One. Arthur C. Clarke posed that, "any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic." To my way of thinkin', God can only be "God" if he supercedes all technology (and magic.) So, to fasten the ends on my point, I'd challenge Barb to change the last word of her first sentence here from "dominion" to "volition." Other than that... I'll certainly buy her advice!”

Then Doc queried of me: “So, taking your implication of omni-presence as a given, I'll ask, just for yucks, which you will sacrifice to theodicy: omnipotence, omnibenevolence, or (the always less than satisfying Catholic answer) humanity's ability to accurately distinguish between good and evil? (It's too late for silence, btw. You already took the sugared bait.) >-)”

(I hate it when he looks at me like that.)

New acquaintance and long time “They Rode On”-er Buck added: “re: bait. I can see the glint of the hook and refuse to play. Mainly coz what I know of theology can be placed in my right eye, sans pain. Or even watering. But I like the quote.”

I then responded: “No prob on the sugared bait. If you check my BMI, you'll see that I'm over quota anyway. Ah, yes... good old Gotty (Gottfried Leibniz) and the question of Theodicy. Permit an old mind to cogitate a proper response and if patience permits, await a further observation. i.e. Hang on a second whilst I jot something down. I shall return anon”

Somewhat reluctantly, I have returned. Or perhaps retreated. Here. Jotted for your consideration…

- - - - - - - - - -

(Despite Barbara’s admonition against critique of the universe as a math (or logic) problem, here goes anyway. Reel me in boys!)

Ah, yes… leave it to good old Gotty! Gottfried Leibniz coined the phrase “Theodicy” way back in 17-something. Interesting about his name. (From Godafrid, which meant "peace of god" from the Germanic god "god" and frid "peace". Some guy named Norman, and a bunch of his friends, also named Norman, collectively THE Normans, stole Gotty’s name and brought it to England. Presumably Mr. Leibniz took it back.) Anyway, I doubt that he ever had any real “peace of God” concerning his question, “How can we justify God?” or more critically, how can we show that the evil in the world does not conflict with the goodness of God, and in spite of evil, that “our” world is the best one that could possibly exist. In short, if God, why pain and suffering of ANY kind at all anywhere any time? So Gotty, or God-dy, to his friends, seems to have come up with the coining of THE question for the ages. The definitive “Why?”

As of this writhing, (yes, writhing) I have three children under ten years of age. The question “why?” comes up all the time and I’ve discovered the perfect answer. It’s the same answer parents have used for ages. It’s the be-all-end-all parent-child-argument ender. It is the answer because it is the answer. It’s the one you were given and promised you’d never use on the helpless. The answer (which you already know) in a moment. First, some more exposition.

My children and my answer to that question, “why?” have served to sharpen the fractured and over-brimming insight that I have come to regard as my view of God in recent years. After all, according to Alfred W. Tozer the most important question you will ever answer is, “What do you think of when you think of God?” Every other answer to every other question will stem from this one answer in his estimation. At some point I have to agree.

Let us return to the question at hand.

Which will I sacrifice, omnipotence, omnibenevolence, or mankind’s judgement?
Or, in other words, which of the three will I lay claim to as the foundling common trait of God?

1) He is all powerful but is either too stupid, too insensitive (i.e. selfish), or just not in the mood to do “good” as humanity defines it. 2) He’s “good” but can’t (no power) or won’t (too stupid or selfish) or is just not in the mood to do “good” as humanity defines it. 3) Men and women are just moronic tiny specks who are too selfish to “get” God’s Idea of Good and Evil and follow His advice (i.e. humanity has too limited of an understanding to definitively define anything and we have poorly and indignantly defined “God.”)

Dude. Do you really have to ask?

Let’s put aside how God can possibly be “known.” I can’t even think how to address all the paradox of that question here. This is so "Area III" I can't even fart.

Okay. We got three things here which seem to cover every possibility. Power, goodness, and perception. Three is a special number. Big cool things come in threes or with three parts. Can’t define a Cartesian plane without three points. Three dimensions is the minimum required for reality and for a real object in space. Height, width, depth. The matter is covered. But to go for reality as we know it, you must add the inherent energy of a thing. (Time is the critical concept here.) Mankind has sensed this for millennia, but it’s taken Einstein and quantum theory to define it in terms understandable. Plato’s Cave had it at it’s source. Everything vibrates and has an energy signature. Everything, that is, except God? At least by definition? Is God self-defining or can He be measured. Can his power or goodness be measured? Have we the yardstick? Einstein: Energy = mass multiplied by the speed of light squared. (Don’t get me started on “light.” We can’t even define it, let alone measure it. We haven’t the yardstick. So we do with light as we do with God – we assume. But I digress….) And finally, submitted for your approval… Paul: (God) Love (the greatest of these) equals hope multiplied by faith squared.

To resolve the question at hand, I have no problem defining humans. But God? I don’t think any of us can define God. We can guess by looking inward and outward. Define? Hardly. I’ll go with number three, the human frailty theorem, every time. At least for "yucks," anyway.

For gits and shiggles, let’s make a few points moot. First premise. Is God all-powerful? Is He powerless? What difference does it make to us? If he’s all powerful no other force of nature, including human intellect, will, heart, or supplication makes any difference. God can do anything or God can do nothing. He certainly doesn’t sign anything. (Although Law still recognizes His Acts.) The result looks the same from here. That being true the only valid prayer is “God, help me align myself to your will.” Alcoholics – acceptance is the key.

Third premise. Are humans able to distinguish between good and evil? In nature, without moral imperative, no. Without guilt, no. Without reason, no. Without hope, no. Without time, no. Neither good nor evil can exist without the causality of time. Something has to “happen.” “Happen” implies energy. Good and evil require an answer to the question “why?”

So, to the point… second premise, is God benevolent? What’s “good?” Sounds good? Seems “good?” Feels “good?” Is “good” up for a vote? Is “good” purely sensual? Or is “good” externally defined? All but the last are completely variable. If “good” ever comes up for a vote, it’ll never reach consensus. If God is omnipotent or impotent, the only prayer is for acceptance and alignment. If God is good or the opposite nothing, the prayer is still the same. Acceptance.

In any event, it is all too evident that humans are small and insular as a group and we aspire to the direct opposite of both. Perhaps our own offspring are our clue just as we suppose ourselves the offspring of God. (How else did we get here? No, I dare you. Keep answering all your questions with the response, “But what was before that?” What will you do with the unavoidable causality of time, not to mention the irrationality of space?)

My best, and please-forgive-me, and let-me-off-the-hook, example…

I have lain on my back facing the clear night sky with a child near to hand and heard the question “why?” and then begun to look deeper into the dark starlit sky and then to ask myself the same question without proper answer. At some point, a child, ourselves included, can ask a question to which the proper parental answer is, “I don’t know.” A stubborn child can ask so many times and with such shrill venom that a parent’s final refuge is an old saw. Not a circular saw, though many have thought about it. (And we wonder why bad things happen to good people.) No, the old saw, “because I said so.”

So, sorry to stare at the hook and laugh, but the only vote that counts now or ever is our own. We each get one vote and one vote only and it must come by Theology and not by Theodicy. Tozer’s postulation. Leibniz’s answer. THE reason Theodicy will never provide an answer and Theology always will. Prove that wrong. I dare you. Is the only answer Faith? Is the ante for the game of “which omni- is God?” the ultimate acceptance of Him as something to be questioned? Can we Theodically accept ANY supposition? Can we Theologically accept “Because I said so?” If the Catholic answer is less than satisfying, (it sure is to me just because Catholic is Catholic) go lay on your back and stare at the night sky and keep asking “why?” and answering to the best of your ability until you reach “I don’t know… I guess something just happened” or “I guess because someone said so.” Maybe God’s Answer is ultimately because of premise option three, mankind’s inability, our inability to see in any glass other than darkly. In the beginning was the word. “Because I Said So… Dammit!”
At least for yucks, anyway.


  1. "Why?"

    Simple enough, and it worked for me in my child-rearing days. Granted... oftentimes there was more, a lot more. But some questions are fundamentally unanswerable, except by faith. I've found you either have it or you don't... there doesn't seem to be any middle ground.

    Nice post, Con. (and btw... I'm a Norman. That's my given name, rarely used. Except on paydays.)

  2. @Buck: Hey, thanks.

    I PROMISE never to call you "Norman." I might raise a glass and yell, "Norm!" if I see you coming into the bar.

    (Of course, I'd rather say, "Damn, it's nice to finally meet you in person, Buck!")

  3. And yet, I am afraid I remain among the kin of Byron's Cain and McCarthy's Sutree: "Souls who dare look the Omnipotent tyrant in / His everlasting face, and tell him, that / His evil is not good!” (1.1.138-40).