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Faith By Reason Contents




Chapter 2 ~ Challenges

TRYING to reason about deity presents its own set of difficulties, even for liberals. The good news is that these problems seem to be more or less related. Here are three of them:

Paradox of Theology

From at least as far back as Philo of Alexandria, and long before Zenith of Rome, RCA of New York, or Curtis Mathis of Minneapolis, comes the paradox of theology— God, if worthy of the name, is beyond human comprehension and thereby description. Yet failing to ascribe some characteristic to the word God renders it meaningless.

At the least this requires limiting concept and description to immanence, aspects of possible deity that affect us in some way (which includes all characteristics presently discoverable or inferable by us, since ascertainment is an effect).

Means by which to identify transcendence, aspects of possible deity that are beyond experience, will be conceded to be as inaccessible as the aspects themselves, much less some of Al Whitehead’s finer ruminations (without the help of two books: Understanding Whitehead, and its necessary companion volume, Understanding Understanding Whitehead).

While immanence and transcendence might seem incongruent, even unassociable, they can actually belong to the same entity, just as fire can be manifested by darkness and light (smoke and flame).

Dilemma of Unknowing

Issues raised by the paradox of theology lead to the next difficulty, which might be the core problem of human existence itself (other than trying to figure out what women want) the dilemma of unknowing—

In real life, apart from pure thought, agnosticism is impossible, because everyday actions force us to make choices that betray various levels of commitment to belief or disbelief;

Yet agnosticism is mandatory, because those aspects of either God or purpose that make God great enough to be called God, or purpose worthy enough to be ultimately meaningful, are beyond science and therefore outside the range of certainty to which we’re accustomed.

Any certainty built on faith is far from impregnable when that belief is based on factors outside the sphere of natural guidance, as it often is. (In the case of wannabe lovers, it’s wondering why those to whom you’re the most attracted seem least attracted to you.)

Still on a day-to-day basis, while a few seek refuge in the black-and-white (Tri-X Pan) answers offered by some of the more simplistic brands of religion, the rest of us make decisions based on whatever faith or best-reckoning we can muster, accepting that even the smallest insights can, if nothing else, make us aware of those yet to be attained.

Linguistic Challenges

Finally an analytic challenge is posed by the apparently rising susceptibility to linguistic attack— for being ambiguous, or without real meaning— of increasingly mature views of the divine nature.

These become more likely as we progress from anthropomorphic (human-like) models associated with primitive cultures to sophisticated but often vague concepts less likely to conflict with advancing scientific knowledge, such as some of those outlined by the theologian Paul Tillich.

The problem is structural. If we start with the skeleton of an idea, but instead of concretely building on it reduce it further in order to pass various objections, sooner or later we’re left with nothing but the final episode of This Old House, Norm returning to his workshop to show us first how to build whatnots, then shelves to hold whatnots.

In the event we decide to believe there is deity, that conclusion should imply something beyond itself.

Faith By Reason Contents
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© 1999-2007 Warren Farr — revised 9/17