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Being
Chapter 3 ~ Attributes

IT would seem that before asking whether divine immanence exists, we should assign, even if vaguely at first, some sort of working concept or set of attributes (characteristics of possible deity, based on inference from aspects and logic) to bear in mind if we dare forebear bearing forth a bear worthy of bearing the name God, or similar title.

Such attributes can be so widely divergent as to be virtually if not diametrically opposite, seemingly making them in violation of the law of contradiction, which states that it’s impossible for a thing to belong and not belong to the same classification simultaneously and in a similar manner—

Outside the universe, in it, or both; benevolent or omnibenevolent (maximum moral goodness); omnipotent (all-powerful) or only most-powerful; knowing (implied, if omnipotent) or unknowing; immutable (unchanging) or mutable; impersonal or personal; sometimes vengeful or always forgiving; too radiant to gaze upon or resembling an elderly comedic actor.

But since clues to a possible divine nature, provided empirically via immanent aspects or rationally via logic, would tend also to be existential evidences, we might as well look for the latter first—

To see if there’s anything to ascribe characteristics to— anything from basis of being to ultimate reality or, at the very least, insignia on the comedic actor’s cap or the brand of cigar he’s smoking.

We need only outline parameters sufficient to identify something worthy of being called God, if not Burns or George, then attempt more specific attributes (Supermarket, Denver, John).

So what should be our parameters? Wise men throughout the ages (and more than a few wannabes) have ascribed a host of characteristics, any or several of which we can look for—

An absolute, infinite, eternal, omnipotent entity— personal or impersonal, transcendent and/or immanent, sole or ultimate reality; the source, mover, essence, unity, and/or final cause of the world (cosmos); truth or being itself, accessible in the depths of the self.

Oneness

We tend to refer to God as singular, but possible deity could be singular (one infinite), multitudinous (infinity divided, a paradox), or being infinite in all else, multitudinously infinite (infinite number of infinities, or infinity). It’s unlikely we’ll be able to conceptualize the divine either numerically or quantitatively.

This need not trouble us. Transcendence removes us from our world-bound concepts, including our earthly ideas about individualization. Even immanently, deity could be one and infinity, the same way we are many individuals (plural) and one humanity (singular). Likewise deity could be each of infinite aspects, yet of one purpose.

On an individual level, just because each of us has many personality characteristics, senses, or limbs doesn’t mean we can’t choose to refer to ourselves in the singular, as of course we generally do. God, like us, could be singular and plural— likewise neither singular nor plural.

It might actually be more correct, based on our concept of individualization, to refer to deity in the plural, because of the loving aspects of all the multitudinous seats of consciousness in the universe and in existence.

This is counterbalanced though by the single life-giving and sustaining quality of ultimate reality. Likewise since God, uniquely, can’t be referred to as either He, She, It, or They, no pronoun— unless one is ever devised and accepted for the purpose— is appropriate.

Omnipotence

Of characteristics ascribable to a possible deity, the most controversial might be omnipotence— whether or not such a deity is all-powerful, able to do anything; or almighty, not able to do everything, yet able to do more or bigger things than anything or anyone else in all of existence, including David Copperfield.

The paradoxes of omnipotence— perhaps the most famous example of which is, “God cannot create a stone too heavy for God to lift”— while usually answerable in some form, still tend to discourage belief in an all-powerful deity. But more troubling—

An all-powerful deity can’t be all-good, or there’d be no unnecessary evil. Even allowing for the necessity of evil sufficient for giving us free will, there is unnecessary (excess) evil, which an all-powerful-and-good deity would eliminate.

We know this if for no other reason than because we know that this world is not the best possible world. And we know that because we know that some— if not all— eras in the past have been inferior to this one, so at least some surely will be— if not have been— better.

Common sense also tells us that there exists evil over and above that required for either our free will or edification. Much natural (as opposed to moral) evil exists despite our best effort: An earthquake that kills a thousand people might be more edificatory— but surely not twice as much so— than one that kills five hundred.

So we have to give up all-powerful, all-good, or both. It seems preferable to keep the all-good characteristic, or at least defining good as what God does, and being content with almighty, or most-powerful, just as when we were kids we accepted— and occasionally even enjoyed— our parents’ shortcomings.

Omniscience

This brings us to omniscience: if a deity knows everything, including the future, human beings are effectively denied free will.

It’s unlikely that a deity would have the ability to foreknow, yet for some reason not use it.

Although illusory free will might, for practical purposes, be as good as actual free will, reduction of the latter would make our lives seem less meaningful, even though we’d still feel free after a particularly bad afternoon on the course to drive a car over our golf clubs.

On a commonsense level it’s hard to believe that deity would know everything. To log the location of every nucleus and electron in the universe, much less all the future locations, would require a memory bank larger than the universe, although since we are talking about God, resources greater than the known universe might be available.

Science has demonstrated that the universe is inherently indeterministic. Some had speculated that actions on the quantum level were ultimately predictable if the physics could be understood well enough. Apparently this is not possible, in the natural world at least.

Still, giving up omnipotence has the bonus of allowing us this choice, so we could say that deity— other than through sentient beings— either is not cognizant in the sense that we are (most likely), or has some form of limited knowledge.

Awareness

In this connection we wonder if a deity would have a consciousness apart from other consciousnesses that can hear our supplications and understand our condition, beyond simply an immanence that permeates all of reality, even though this aspect seems to lack conceivable variation that doesn’t involve returning to the brain-in-the-sky in some form.

There are some apparently-supernatural occurrences that might be verifiable. However there’s nothing to prove that— apart from the divine within each of us— they are externally from a deity, even if, in rare cases, they come as the immediate result of a direct appeal to such a deity—

Further the acceptance of these occurrences as coming externally and directly from a deity leaves the question of why such a deity would acquiesce to one and not to another with yet stronger virtue, need, and plaint, much less care if we sledgehammer a bowling ball or burn a tennis racket.

Maybe deity and creation are symbiotic, one not able to exist except through the other;

We must consider the likelihood that deity is person-like only through person-like entities, including but perhaps not limited to our fellow humans— when they are doing good, or even when they are engaged in questionable activities, like cutting up a bicycle or missing an anger-management meeting.

The concern arises that, as an unconscious and unknowing force, deity would be inferior to us— we have awareness and a little knowledge, so it would seem that those attributes, our highest, should belong to deity, and then some.

But our strongest abilities may be unnecessary to a deity. Further, they may operate for deity through us anyway, so in some sense our abilities are automatically part of our God’s abilities. For analogy— reducing things to our level—

While few of the people carrying pocket calculators remember how to perform square roots, even slowly, the most complex function of many of the simplest of those machines is quickly doing roots. Yet no one would argue that the human isn’t vastly superior to the gadget, even lacking its strongest feature.

And because the human has access to the device, its abilities are included among that person’s abilities.

Since life evolved subject to natural law, it might be surmised that the ultimate reality that’s accessible to us is likely to be as impersonal as natural law, therefore deity is impersonal. However because immanence is everywhere and always, deity could present to each as they are— non-personal to non-persons, personal to persons.

Existence

Even the question as to whether deity exists is itself relevant only in certain cases, often settled out of court: for example, as something other than deity as just an idea, since any concept becomes live as a thought upon formation in someone’s mind.

The ‘Is God dead?’ question posits idea only, since God as a reality independent of human cognition, and regarded anyway to be beyond the spatial and temporal, would have been unlikely to have conveniently died at the dawn of the Enlightenment.

A similar machination is imposed when deity is simply equated with whatever is most ultimate— the greatest reality— in our existence. For some this might be children, for others a lover perhaps, or even a classic Mercury lead sled.

While few would call Them, Him, Her, or It God, we perceive that, the more we move toward what might truly qualify— the extramundane or inimitable— the more we’re forced out of our cognitive realm; vagaries and uncertainties overwhelm.

We can be left feeling we’ve done nothing but hash language, and wondering if we can afford new sports equipment.

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