Sunday, May 15, 2011

If I were an Early Christian I would argue this

When the Nicene Council debated on the substance of God, I pondered the nature of divine substance. This in turn led me to think about the differences between God in flesh and in spirit. In order to make progress in my philosophical investigations of this subject, I employed the new and necessary reasoning called logic which Aristotle has taught us. I find it paramount to use logic because I have found Scripture to lack an explicit enough exposition of intangibles. While many have applied Plato’s philosophy to their Christian metaphysics, I find their conclusions to sometimes have significant contradictions, which I wish to refute.

            I am all too aware of the ability of many of Christians who are opposed to my conclusions to provide an abundance of scripture that either complicates or contradicts my conclusions. While I welcome criticism and the kind revealing the error of my way, I feel quite vexed by the ability of my fellow Christians to arrive at multiple contradicting conclusions from Scripture, especially the newer ones. For instance, I am particularly vexed by Paul’s epistles. On one hand, Paul argues in one case that we ought to “use argument, appeal, and reproof” in order to defend the faith (2 Tim. 4:2). On the other, He claims that “God confounds the wise by choosing the fool” (I Cor. 1:17). We know from Proverbs that “fools cannot be corrected by words” (Prov. 29:19) Psalms tells us that “the fool will not stand in the presence of God” (Psalms 5:5). Paul mentions that he “is a fool for Jesus sake” (I Cor. 4:10).

            This leads to two problems from simply quoting Paul, who is highly regarded by Christians for his Apostleship. Through the application of logic, we know that Christian cannot both use argumentation and incapable of persuasion. A fool will not see a good argument when presented with one. If the fool was to choose between the good argument and the bad one, he would choose the bad one. If a Christian is a fool, he believes for the wrong reasons and will probably spread these false reasons to others. If a Christian can use logic in order to defend the faith, he is no longer a fool, but Paul says that God chooses the fool, so does that mean those who defend the faith are no longer saved. God cannot both choose and spurn the fool from his heavenly kingdom. Further, God cannot both confound the wise and not be the “author of confusion” as Paul also writes (I Cor. 14:33). My goal again is to resolve some conflicts not by an extensive review of Scripture. It is rather through the application of logic on the most foundational elements of our faith like Creation to arrive at new knowledge about the nature of God.

Of Creation: Many Christians, including Augustine, believe that God can create substance from nothing (Augustine 503). This is the most evidently false of their beliefs. First, all things have always existed or have parts from preexisting substance. Just as no one can build a house without bricks, God cannot build a new substance from the lack of substance. Since Scripture reveals that only God existed in the beginning, God must have built Heaven and Earth from the only existing substance, Himself.
            Second, omnipotence does not mean that God can do anything but only that which is possible. A common flaw in my fellow Christian’s thinking is to enumerate the powers of God while depriving God of the means toward achieving the aim of that power. The aim of the power of creation is to make new substance but the means of creation is older substance.

God’s flesh body in the Garden: As Scripture reveals, God walked while in the Garden, which implies the finitude of God’s flesh body. In order to walk, this flesh body must have limited stature or the body could not move without overstepping its destination. Even a single degree difference of the angle between the legs would amount to an infinite distance. One can logically conclude then that the body of the God depicted in the Garden is not omnipresent. This flesh body must rather be the puppet of the spirit of God which is omnipresent and infinite.

In God’s Image: What can one learn about God’s image? First, an image implies materiality. God’s image must refer to his flesh body and its perceived properties. Second, Adam shares this image as an honor bestowed upon him by God. Third, one also knows that neither Adam nor God came from a womb; therefore, they lack a navel. Fourth, God plucked a rib from Adam to form Eve. Rib means here either a part or a side. On one hand, understood as a part, God uses a similar process in which part of God made the world in order to form Eve’s flesh body from Adam. On the other hand, understood as a side, Adam originally had a male half and a female half. This translates into God also having both sexes contained in his flesh body. Aristophanes gave a similar account in Plato’s Symposium, so the idea that Adam originally had both male and female components and was without a belly button is not unoriginal either (Symposium 190a-192a). 
            While the second interpretation would strike as blasphemy to many of my fellows, the possibility of this interpretation exists, and one ought to account for it when taking steps in knowing more about God. As I have mentioned earlier, the Scripture can simultaneously express multiple messages which one can apply reason to discern the true message often. In this case, I have found neither interpretation more persuasive so have suspended judgment. I suggest the suspension of judgment in cases like this when the evidence does not lead to a single conclusion. This would greatly reduce the degree of unnecessary conflict which occurred between those who debated in the Nicene Council.
Of Physical Phenomena: God created four elements: earth, water, air, and fire.  First, God created water (Genesis 1:2). Next, God created the firmament or earth (Genesis 1:6). Then, He drew a line in the water called the horizon; thus, God made the Heavens (Genesis 1:7) Finally, God created the Sun and with it fire (Gen. 1:16). With these elements, God made all things of flesh, including His own flesh body.
            All flesh bodies give off and take in the four elements. Without any of them, the body ceases to function. Without taking in fire, the body starts to freeze to death. The other deprivations are thirst, hunger, and asphyxiation. I disagree with the Gnostics who point to the decay of the body as an imperfection of material bodies. Decay is the natural process where God’s material creation slow breaks down into simpler substance. This process eventually leads to the substance returning to the original substance of God. Decay, in other words, is the decrease in the degree of separation between God and his material creation.
            Material substance has one main characteristic that distinguish it from spiritual substance. This is firmness or the tendency of a body to resist penetration or motion. Earth has the highest resistance of the elements, while fire has the least, for even air can crush fire. Things of equal firmness do not penetrate each other but rather move around one another. The motion around equal firmness manifests itself as wind and current.

Of Spiritual Phenomena: Like the physical elements, there are four kinds of spirits: motion, Holy Spirit, souls, and demons. The infinite substance of God controls over motion and Holy Spirit. Scripture tells us the God stopped the Sun and then brought it back into motion (Isaiah 38:8). Motion is the kind of spirit which affects material objects. It transfers from one object to another, often dividing itself between the two. Motion disperses itself through the solid in which it finds itself and the greater dispersion the weaker the motion.
God used the Holy Spirit in order to control the Pharaoh and King Saul and facilitate their demise (Exo. 4:21 and I Sam. 22:5-23:14). The Holy Spirit affects souls and demons. Unlike motion, Holy Spirit does not weaken when it enters a large material body, for its effect is not in the matter but in spirit. Holy Spirit is how God communicates to the souls of His followers and cleanses them of sin. Jesus used the Holy Spirit cast out demons. God has chosen few in our history to have power over the Holy Spirit, most notably being the Apostles. This power allows them to perform miracles. 
God created the first human soul in Adam. In every subsequent human being, a new soul forms as a product of the holy union between man and women. Demons are produced from homosexuality and various other deviations from this holy union. All souls have power over motion which allows the soul act in the physical medium. Human souls also have a finite intelligence which allows them to act intelligently. Demons have twisted powers, and their presence in the body leads to disease and madness.
What distinguishes souls from one another is an independent will. This is important in that this leads me to believe that Jesus and God are different from each other in this essential way. In the garden of Gethsemane, both Matthew and Luke tell us that Jesus prayed to that God’s, not Jesus’, will be done (Matt. 26:39 and Luke 22:43).  Since there are two wills, there are two souls. Also, because in the beginning there was only God, Jesus must have come into existence later. In this, I agree with Arius.

On Gnostics: Though I have yet to cover much of particularities of substances and God, I feel it necessary to take metaphysics a stride at a time. After every exploration into new territory, it is important to reflect upon criticism of one’s work. The Gnostics criticism of my reasoning on God is most serious of all, and it has become relevant that I address some of it.
            The Bishop of Memphis when at the Nicene Council had argued that those who think they understand anything about God commit a kind of hubris. He believes that finite minds cannot understand something infinite like God. While at first glance, I believed that he contradicted himself by claiming that he knows that God has only unknowable qualities. If unknowable is a quality, he is claiming that he does indeed know a quality of God. I will concede however that this is not a contradiction. Lacking the capacity to appreciate God is rather a quality of humans and not God.
            One of my contentions is that if one can say nothing with certainty about God, why has God revealed himself to his creation if not to make them know him? The absurdity of this reveals itself the difficulty one must have if one cannot have any idea of God. For instance, how is a Christian a Christian if he does not know anything about his religion? Can one expect him to even understand prayer if he does not know to whom he prays?
            Another contention I have is that the claim that one commits hubris in “knowing” God leads to the strange conclusion that much of Scripture becomes hubris. King David writes a great deal of praise of God’s attributes. Is the bishop claiming that David made a mistake by writing Psalms?
            My final contention is against the bishop’s claim that a human mind cannot have an idea of the infinite. There is a difference between the ability to comprehend an idea and the ability to imagine it. For instance, while I can have an idea of a thousand-sided polygon, I cannot imagine it and count its sides. I comprehend the polygon so far as I know the geometrical properties thereof. Similarly, I know God so far as I know his qualities and plan. This is why I chosen to focus on the qualities of God’s substance, and just like in Euclid’s geometry, I use those basic properties to learn more about God and his creation.

Works Cited:
Coogan, Michael D., et al., eds. The New Oxford Annotated Bible. 4th rev. ed. New York: Oxford, 2010.
Plato. Symposium. The Collected Dialogues of Plato. Trans. Michael Joyce and Ed. Edith Hamilton and Huntington Cairns. New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1961.

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