April 13, 2007

What Would YOU Do?

Posted in fatherhood, mythology, theology at 3:41 pm by Jerry

What Would YOU Do — if you were an all-good, all-powerful parent?

If I was an all-good and all-powerful parent, my children wouldn’t need ‘faith’ to believe in my existence and care. They’d have knowledge of my existence and care because I’d literally be with them, communicating with them (audibly – if they so desired) and helping them.

If I was an all-good and all-powerful parent, I wouldn’t add to my childrens’ suffering and maintain their new level of suffering for an eternity. I’d invite my children into my heavenly home and give them the freedom to come and go as they please.

If I was an all-good and all-powerful parent, I wouldn’t use punitive measures to bring justice to all. (That’s for parents with limited powers.) I’d reveal to my children a fuller awareness of themselves, educating them about the good and bad they’ve done, and plan to do. I’d explain to them their motives for desiring to behave badly. I’d show them how their bad behavior can hurt others, and help them imagine what that hurt would feel like. (I say “can hurt others” because I’d protect my children from being hurt by their siblings.)

Then, I’d appeal to all the good that remains within them instead of appealing to their bad nature. I’d use compelling positive reinforcement instead of fear. And I’d do this in a way only an all-good, all-powerful parent could.

WWYD

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24 Comments »

  1. Bev said,

    Hi Jerry,
    I stumbled upon your blog quite by accident today through a friend’s. My name is Bev (Funk) Walker – I was in Youth For Christ with you, and I think we attended Bethany at the same time as well. I was thrilled to see your beautiful little baby girl! She is really sweet, so happy to see that you have found a soul mate, aren’t babies amazing? My husband Geoff and I had a little boy in September… our second. 🙂
    I am assuming by reading your blog that you no longer have the same beliefs that I only assumed that you used to. I can hear my father in law say that to assume something is to make an ass of u and me :)…dry, dry humor.
    Anyway, I take no pride in being highly knowledgable on really any subject :). Just want you to know that I think as we grow as parents, we will find how incredibly hard it is to parent. I also think that education, although it is one of the most important investments we can make in our lives…will never even begin to shed light on the vast knowledge held by a God who knows exactly why he parents us the way he does. Enough said. I really never knew you enough, and don’t know you enough now well enough to comment any further…the last thing I would want to do is turn you off any further than what you have already experienced. I just felt I needed to say this – the heart broke in me reading it, and yet I’m sure you are most sincere and put a lot of thought in it.
    The very best to you, Becky and Emma – Congratulations again!
    Sincerely,
    Bev

  2. Matt said,

    So far so good, Jerry, but you mention the word “bad” in here. How would you handle “bad” and “evil” in your omnipotent and omnibenevolent state?

    I would also add that you are experiencing God’s goodness even if you refuse to acknowledge it.

    Matt

  3. Jerry said,

    Matt,

    I addressed how I’d handle bad in my post. What more do you want?

    And I’ll add that I may be, in fact, experiencing something of God’s goodness (if God exists), but I’m not refusing to acknowledge it. I’m just not aware of it.

    By the way, though you’ve clearly communicated a familiar biblical paradigm in our discusssions, your manner of response to me was one of a kind (this is a good thing).

    A pleasure,
    Jerry

  4. Matt said,

    Thanx Jerry,

    not sure how my response is one of a kind, but if you say that it’s a good thing, I’ll trust it is!

    Not sure if you want to keep this going, but what I meant when discussing “bad” was that you would try to understand WHY your children do bad. What do you think the source of “bad” and “evil” are? How would you deal with this source of evil? Assuming you would eventually destroy it (as God will), how would you bring your children to yourself and away from this source in the meantime? What if they are unwilling to accept your love and reconciliation? What then?

    If you don’t want to keep this alive, I’ll understand. Otherwise, I’m curious to hear from you. If I all of a sudden “disappear” from the blog world, it’s because my wife and I are greeting our second baby into the world!

    Matt

  5. Theseus said,

    “If I was an all-good and all-powerful parent, my children wouldn’t need ‘faith’ to believe in my existence and care.” ––– I cannot disagree with this at all; if, however, you suggest that this picture be thrown upwards to a Deity and expected of him, I would have to say that the analogy does not hold. First of all, it suggests that God is a being. This is carried even further in the line that follows concerning literal presence. When he was alive, Robert Nozick wrote a story (published in Moment, 1978) about how God could even go about proving his reality. Nozick was an atheist but found the rejection and call for evidence by other atheists to be quite naive. In the Story he imagines that upon waking up he looks into the sky and notices that all of the stars have been arranged differently. Because the sign could not be in one language (it would have to be understandable by all), it would have to represent something very different. After expounding on what this could be, Nozick draws an important point. It would still remain possible to doubt the existence of God. One could even provide stories and explanations for what happened. Though these would only be slightly possible, one could just claim that the stories are much simpler than having to posit the existence of some kind of deity. Further, as years go by, individuals would slowly begin to doubt such an event actually occurred. Even if the sign remained in the sky, they would claim that their idea of it as a sign was modeled after the configuration; just like some people see Orion, others see God.

    As for the second paragraph, I think C. S. Lewis’ point in The Great Divorce gets at this point: in the end, the gates of hell will not be locked from the outside, but will, instead, be locked from within. The key is turned when instead of saying “Let thy will be done,” one says, “Let my will be done.”

    The third paragraph assumes we are like children. God gave us an intellect for a reason and sometimes we have use such in order to behave correctly. No matter how much you train a child, their attempt to differentiate their individual psyche results in a willed refusal to follow what was learned.

  6. Jerry said,

    Matt,

    “What do you think the source of “bad” and “evil” are?” I don’t know. I could speculate, however, that there is no “source,” and evil actions/thoughts begin accidentally.

    So, Matt, if you think the biblical version of an all-good, all-powerful parent is alot more *real* than the version I described above, do you also think your version is a more ethical one?

  7. Jerry said,

    Theseus! I’m glad you stopped by!

    You said, “In the Story he imagines that upon waking up he looks into the sky and notices that all of the stars have been arranged differently. Because the sign could not be in one language (it would have to be understandable by all), it would have to represent something very different.”

    I’m sure you would agree that an all-good, all-powerful parent would be more than willing to provide more than one ambigious sign for all of humanity. Why can’t he or she talk to everyone in their own language (even at the same time)?

  8. Matt said,

    Jerry,

    If evil actions and thoughts are merely accidental, are good actions and thoughts also accidental? What about teaching your children moral responsibility? If good and bad are not grounded in universals, then you have no grounds to even begin to describe what a “good” parent could do, for “good” and “evil” become arbitrary. There is essentially no meaning to life, choices, or morality. On what grounds does one say that adopting an orphan is morally superior to abusing 2 year olds for fun?

    Back to the issue of punishment. If you were an all-powerful parent, what would you do if your child murdered somebody? What if somebody murdered your child? Would you let it go because you’re all good? You say that your own children wouldn’t hurt each other because you’d prevent it. Do you mean that you would annihilate your children’s free will and moral responsibility? I thought you wanted them to become more aware and challenge them intellectually. To take away moral choice and resonsibility is to work against personal growth. I think you are confusing all-good and all-powerful with all-nice and all-controlling.

    Yes, I do believe that the Bible’s description of a loving and perfectly holy father is ethically superior to yours. For the God of the Bible not only desires His children to have free agency and moral responsibility, but He also recognizes the fact that evil exist through that free agency, and that evil must be dealt with if not atoned for and forgiven. Your description appears, at this point at least to be grossly immoral, for the parent controls the choices and the outcome, and does not hold the children responsible for their moral free choices. The description you have given so far has not yet recognized evil as being meaningful, much less provide a way to deal with it in a just and loving manner. I’d love to hear how your parent would handle evil and free agency in a meaningful way.

    Back at the beginning of your post you said that you wouldn’t require your children to have faith to believe in you, because they could know you in a more tactile way. I would argue that God does in fact make himself known to our intellects as well as to our hearts. He does this through nature, through conscience, through the gift of free will, through reason, through revelation (ie – Scripture), and through His son Jesus Christ who came to reconcile us to God and to deal with evil in a meaningful way.

    I’m reminded of a story of several mice who live inside of a grand piano. Every day they hear the beautiful music being created, and they always wonder who the Player is. After all, surely there must be a Player in order for there to be such rythym, timing, and beauty to the music. It sure doesn’t sound like the music is a product of chance. The mice are so curious and they discuss day after day who the Player is. Finally, one of them is brave enough to venture out to see who the Player is. He ventures throughout the inside of the piano and hurriedly runs back to his friends and says “I’ve figured it out!!!” “The music is created by a hammer striking a string, and there are many different strings that produce different notes that create this beautiful music – we were so naive to think that there was a Player when all along there was a perfectly rational cause”

  9. Matt said,

    Jerry, I will not have as much time to spend on this in the near future, as my wife and I had a wonderful little boy! I just came home from the hospital, and mom and baby are coming home tomorrow. I’ll be busy helping out at home, though I will try to make time to continue following this conversation and contributing where I have time! This is your blog, so if you like, I will let you have the last word. I hope I have given some food for thought in the meantime, though. I assure you that I have been enjoying this, and have been dialoging with you in good faith. I hope my tone has not come across as insulting or abbrasive! Tone is such a hard thing to judge in the absence of eye contact and body language – one weakness of talking on a blog!

    I wish you all the best as you think through your journey, and I hope it will end in the acceptance of Jesus’ offer of communion!

    Matt

  10. Jerry said,

    Matt, congratulations on your new son! May he grow knowing all the love this world has to offer.

    Returning back to the discussion…
    “Good” is an attribute of the living, and “bad” a judgement on anything that is a detriment to life. Anybody – christian, atheist, hindu, agnostic, jew, deist, muslim, buddhist, etc. – can recognize this fundamental moral principle within, or without, their scriptures. Therefore, myself, and everyone else, has “grounds” to teach others about moral responsibility because everyone has personally experienced “bad” in their lifetime.

    You said, “I think you are confusing all-good and all-powerful with all-nice and all-controlling.” Defense does not equal control.

    You also said, “Your description appears, at this point at least to be grossly immoral, for the parent controls the choices and the outcome, and does not hold the children responsible for their moral free choices.” I don’t know how you see parental control in the childrens’ choices. They have freedom of thought and expression (good and bad), only, others will be defended by any hurt they could cause. And if you mean responsible in the sense that they should be punished, then, no, they are not held responsible. But they *are* held responsible in the sense that what they think and say is accepted as a part of WHO THEY ARE.

    As far as your mice-in-a-piano analogy, I’d have to go back to my comment I made in our discussion a couple of posts back, where I asked: “Isn’t it just as possible that the universe is the source of the God idea, and that God would cease to be if the universe ceased to be? Isn’t it possible that the universe is without a beginning instead of God?”

    As long we keep going back, looking for the original cause, the uncreated creator or unmoved mover, we will always find a resting place called “always was” or “exists without beginning”. The universe is just as capable of being this as “God” is.

    Jerry

  11. Theseus said,

    Apparently God speaking directly to every individual in their own particular language is somehow more effective than a sign able to be collectively communicated? I am not really sure how one would argue for this. Individuals would not doubt themselves and come to believe that they had experienced some kind of collective hallucination? Or perhaps these voices could be explained much in the same way that Daniel Smith does in his very recent book, Muses, Madmen, and Prophets: Rethinking the History, Science, and Meaning of Auditory Hallucination.

    I should note that while I think Nozick’s story hits on an often neglected topic, the tradition that I am apart of (namely, Thomism) does believe that God’s existence is evident from what we see, experience, and reason from, so all men are without excuse (to paraphrase St. Paul). But this is beside the point you cover in your post.

  12. Theseus said,

    Real quickly, I must note that your Unmoved mover characterization is dramatically biased in that it completely ignores the argument itself. Dwell on this: why did St. Thomas believe the unmoved mover argument to be successful but also believe that the finitude to the world was a belief of faith, not of reason?

  13. Jerry said,

    Theseus,

    If you prefer to see proof of God’s existence in nature itself, that’s your prerogative. But contrary to what the bible says, I think if an omnibenevolent God did exist, this God would be willing to be tested by his children to establish a recognition of God’s existence.

    Of course, after the test was completed, some people would probably say this is not their God, it’s the Devil. Because the God they worship is not like this. But this is also acceptable to me because when I say I want God to prove his/her existence, I’m saying I want proof of ANY supernatural existence (thereby, providing room for the various interpretations of what/who “God” is). By the way, I’d also ask this supernatural whatever for a valid reason why it didn’t step in to rescue humans before they experienced their suffering.

    Theseus, for someone who believes in a powerful and knowledgeable creator of the universe, I’m surprised that you don’t think God could not only communicate skillfully his or her own existence, but also improve any of the tests we could come up with.

    Oh, and real quickly, you said, “Dwell on this: why did St. Thomas believe the unmoved mover argument to be successful but also believe that the finitude to the world was a belief of faith, not of reason?” Looks like I’m not the only one who “completely ignores the argument itself”.

  14. Theseus said,

    If you are suggesting that I am ignoring the argument, I am not sure what you are talking about. Ignoring yours? I accept your conclusions if the argument is set up that way. Failing to outline the argument itself? When I mentioned the idea of dwelling on what Thomas argues for, this was meant to point to the key to understanding the argument itself rather than ignoring it. The point being that the proof should be read keeping in mind that Thomas believes the Unmoved Mover argument to be successful even if the universe is eternal. Or were you suggesting that you are with a large group of company in interpreting Thomas’ and Aristotle’s argument this way? That I will agree with. Most people do not understand it because they attempt to read him as a modern, or simply not to read him but judge him by what others hear.

    I agree with you in wanting a proof for the existence of God. Religion, itself, would be a sham and a vice to me if God’s reality could not be proven.

    Lastly, I am not sure what you mean by “improve any of the tests we could come up with.” My contention was that God does skillfully communicate his existence but that individuals will always be capable of reductively explaining this given the current ideal of science.

  15. Jerry said,

    “The point being that the proof should be read keeping in mind that Thomas believes the Unmoved Mover argument to be successful even if the universe is eternal.”

    Thanks for clarifying your point, Theseus. But to keep all my commentators in the loop, I would prefer if an arguement was presented (yours or someone elses) on my blog instead of pointing to someone who has written about the subject discussed. I’m very interested in Aquinas’ arguement, though, if you’re willing to present it to me and anyone listening here. Because, if the “universe is eternal,” then: God didn’t create it? God created only part of the natural world out of nothing (ex nihilo)? God didn’t create anything out of nothing but used the eternal matter/energy that already exists to form life? God didn’t form life, but rather, tends it like a gardener? As you can see, I’m curious how you (Aquinas’ arguement?) picture God to be.

    And what I meant by “improve the tests we could come up with” was that “God” should be able to come up with better questions than we could to test his/her existence (whether it be empirical, philosophical, or questions of another nature).

    Jerry

  16. Theseus said,

    Jerry,

    I am planning on answering your request by outlining the proof. It will, however, be a few days because I am trying to finish two final papers and write a paper for a conference.

  17. Theseus said,

    Now that my semester is over I shall take a minute and provide a brief outline of what Thomas and Aristotle argued for. I hope to write a whole post on it when I get the chance; however, I promised an answer and an answer you shall get:

    The essential starting point of the proof could be placed along what Heidegger famously called the fundamental question of metaphysics: “Why are there beings at all instead of nothing?” (first line of his Introduction to Metaphysics). This is essentially what all the ancients (Platonic or Aristotelean) believed to be the question that necessarily led to an affirmation of deity. The question for Thomas and Aristotle can be summarized as the following: John exists. For any case where John exists it remains imaginable that he could not have existed. In other words, I can tell a fictional story the leads up to the time of John’s conception but alter slightly one fact and John would not have been.

    So we clearly have two implications. First, John’s essence, i.e., what he is, does not entail his existence. When speaking about this Thomas’ uses the example of a Phoenix but we can use “unicorn” to further this point. Clearly “unicorn” has a meaning in our language. Ask any child what a unicorn is and you will be provided with an answer such as, “It is a horse with a horn on its head” Then ask the child whether there really are such unicorns, “No silly, they are not real.” But surely there is no contradiction involved in the concept of “unicorn” that makes it a logical impossibility for it to exist. I can imagine their existence perfectly well and it certainly is a logical possibility that there could have been unicorns. So once again, we see that something’s essence and its existence are not the same thing.

    “Why are there beings at all instead of nothing?” Heidegger asks us again. This leads us to the second implication of the foregoing. That something is, is for it to be dependent upon something else for its existence. Clearly if John is going to exist he does not just appear on his own accord. John could not make himself exist because John cannot do anything until he is. So Heidegger’s question essentially leads us to a reflection of the contingency of the world.

    Notice here that we are not speaking about time, the big bang, or anything related to science (accept for the fact that science investigates essence). We are noticing that that something is at all means that it is dependent upon something. When we reflect on this dependency we find that postulations of an infinite regress essentially do not answer the question of why or how there are things at all. One may object, as your post does, that we can postulate an infinite universe. This ignores the question because it takes Thomas as making a scientific statement. Thomas would say, “And what about the infinite universe? It could have not been? Why is it?” Thus Thomas speaks over and again of the creation of the world as a belief of faith. Reason does not suggest that the world had a finite point in time in which it was created. It could have been forever and it could continue to be forever. But that it is at all is the fundamental question of being.

    That is a brief outline of the proof. As I said in the beginning, I hope to provide a longer account later on (though I may have to separate it into parts).

    I really enjoy your blog by the way.

  18. Theseus said,

    Forgot to add: Thomas’ proof ends with a necessity whose essence must be his very existence, “and this is what men call God.” For it to be any other way would to end in another regress. Notice, however, that Thomas does not believe he has said anything about God. To say that something is, is not to say what it is.

  19. Jerry said,

    “To say that something is, is not to say what it is.”

    Isn’t the word “something” saying what it is that exists? Just from using the word “something” we also know that it is not nothing. And if we got more specific than the word “something” we’d know even more about what we think exists.

  20. Theseus said,

    I think the confusion results from a problem of logic. When I say something is, I am essentially saying that there is some X with “such and such” instanced properties. Of course I have not said what these properties are and absolutely anything could be substituted for X in this utterance until these properties have been specified. Further, if what you mean by “not nothing” is to predicate a tautology of the instanced X, then nothing has been said because tautologies are absolutely meaningless (a clear lesson early and later Wittgenstein taught us and Quine reiterated over and again). Tautologous statements say absolutely nothing about the world. If on the other hand, you meant “not nothing” literally, you have also logically asserted nothing different from the first statement. “Not no-thing” is equivalent to the assertion of some thing (~~x = x). So if this was your intent, you have merely traveled in a circle to the assertion of an instanced X without providing the predication of properties. Hence, I cannot say I see a valid objection here.

    I agree with you a hundred percent that if one got more specific than the word “something” we’d know about it. But to do so we would have to know its instanced properties because the value of “some-thing,” i.e., some X, is open.

  21. Jerry said,

    That was a fantastic response! It was so clear and logical. I like how you showed me that I was using a circular argument. THIS is why I LOVE philosophy!

    You said, “I agree with you a hundred percent that if one got more specific than the word “something” we’d know about it. But to do so we would have to know its instanced properties because the value of “some-thing,” i.e., some X, is open.”

    This is where I was hoping to go, because, “God” is more than “something”, right? So, to talk about God’s existence, wouldn’t we also have to be talking about what God is, too?

    (Theseus, while I have no formal education in philosophy, I appreciate the time you have taken to respond in such a thoughtful manner. Thanks.)

  22. Theseus said,

    It is hard to believe that you have no formal education in philosophy. You surely think philosophically! Anyway, I am really enjoying the dialog. Whenever I speak to philosophers I have to throw around “loaded” technical jargon and very often these big terms make me think that I understand a subject that I really do not. So your questions and your substantive objections are quite helpful.

    As for your question: God is not a something, but he is not a nothing either. That, I believe, is the point of the proof. What we end at in the proof is an essence that is its own existence. God, therefore, is pure simplicity and any distinction we make of him (that God is Good, Wise, etc.) fails to get at this simplicity because our concepts always remain differentiated. Hence, Thomas exclaims that there can be no direct intellectual knowledge of God (except, of course, for the beatific vision). All knowledge of God is by analogy whether it be through reason, prophecy, faith, or dogma. This does not mean it is not true. It is true, just not the Truth because it ultimately falls short.

    Lastly, existence cannot be known for St. Thomas. Only essence and being can be known by the intellect. Existence is known through a simple judgment of “it is so” or “it is not so”. Other than this, there is nothing for the intellect to “grasp on to.” So by saying that God’s essence is his own existence we are essentially placing God outside of intelligibility. Or perhaps it is best to say that God is “superintelligible.” This is certainly one reason why the Christian tradition believes the nature of Christ to be of such great importance. If he were anything short of fully divine and fully human there would be no mediation between the world and that heavenly realm. I know you do not believe in this doctrine, but I thought I would point it out.

  23. Jerry said,

    I’ve considered pursuing a degree (and career?) in philosophy, but it’s that “loaded technical jargon” you mentioned that I can’t work with – sometimes because I just don’t want to, but mostly because I don’t know how to!

    You said, “Existence is known through a simple judgment of “it is so” or “it is not so”. Other than this, there is nothing for the intellect to “grasp on to.” Do you think it’s possible that empirical science can do better than this? Maybe not to theology, but in a materialistic sense?

    I appreciate learning more about St.Thomas’ work, and God’s “superintelligibility”. But more and more, I’ve become frustrated with the ineffable/inarticulate (I consider inarticulation one of my greatest weaknesses). I know I shouldn’t expect to be omniscient, but I’m passionate about venturing into the philosophical unknown.

  24. Theseus said,

    The technical jargon is acquired simply through reading the literature. It takes quite a bit of time and one can never be familiar with all the terms. For instance, I know very little about phenomenology; hence, when they throw around terms I often have to ask for elaborations because I do not have any idea what they are talking about. The terminology is useful because it increases brevity and often clarity––for those that do know the terms. We all must keep in mind, however, that brevity often decieves us into believing we have it all together, when we do not. So if you desired to learn the terms, I would suggest an excellent history of philosophy series. Russell’s is good but extremely biased. Fr. Copelstone’s 9 volumes are probably the best around even though they are a little outdated. They also cover much more than Russell feels the desire to. Fr. Copelstone also knew his ancient philosophy. Russell gets almost all of them completely wrong (though I did enjoy his book).

    As for the investigation of empirical science: Thomists believe there to be three degrees of abstraction: Physica, Mathematica, and Metaphysica. The first degree, i.e., Physica, can be split into the empirical sciences and the natural sciences. Thomists also believe that all that exists are particular essences––essentially side with Aristotle over Plato. Universals then (e.g., human being, tree, triangle, etc.) are formed by the intellect from the particular essences giving themselves to the intellect. Because all that exist are particulars, there will always be statistical deviation from the universals. Hence, the laws of science are never found to be fulfilled absolutely. The law of gravity, for example, is only absolute in a vacuum. This is because it is a universal. Quantum Mechanics is another fabulous example.

    In short, science can never get directly at the particularity of an essence. This certainly does not mean it is false. It just means that we must keep in mind the object that the empirical sciences study. So if we place the aforementioned alongside your question we see that science is concerned with the universal laws “regulating” particular existing essences. Two things follow: first, science is not concerned with existence, because this is a necessary requirement for that science to exist. Even the second degree of abstraction, i.e., Mathematics, fails to get at existence. It entertains possible objects, but its theories are always tested on what already is. So the second thing to follow is that it is Metaphysics that is concerned with existence and essence––though in a very different way from the other two.

    As for you last paragraph, all I can do is recite the words of the great Thomist Jacques Maritain: what philosophers and human nature in general need is not a truth that they can grasp completely; one that they can put in a box and examine from time to time; one that can be known inside and out. What we need is a Truth that we may serve; a Truth we may fall prostrate before; a Truth we can only see through a glass darkly. This is the proper end of a Thomist philosophy: mystical contemplation and faith.


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