Home - Wittgenstein's Logic of Language | Bibliography

The God of Ethics and the God of Nature

Christianity does not explain the relation between God, who is the Father, and the cruelty of the human and natural worlds (the God of Nature), but instead, Schweitzer says, Jesus speaks only of the Father's ethics of love. Theodicy is, in that sense, not a Christian topic.

Note: The discussions that follow are preliminary thoughts for later thoughts, and still later thoughts, and then far later thoughts, and of many other thoughts which are found in other places. Its questions are nonetheless important questions about the foundations of Christian religious belief, although I would not like to reread this page now without rewriting all of it. I wonder if one day anything I have written will seem to me not to be ignorance.

Topics on this page ...

Background: this logic of language's question: How are sense and nonsense distinguished from one another in philosophical investigations? (Words that follow "Query" on this page are Internet searches that were directed to this site.)

"... we have no time to give to philosophy" (Plato, Phaedo 66b-d)

Query: dangers of an idle mind.

If it asked unsettling [disturbing to the unexamined life] questions it would not be idle. There is a famous essay which I have never read written by I don't know who titled "In Defense of Leisure". Bruno Walter wrote [from memory]: "Culture does not aim to pass the time, but rather it uses time for its higher purposes." Philosophy is one of those higher purposes. The common saying is: "an idle brain is the devil's playground", and in that context the page (sc. "Concerning Mind and Body") the search engine misdirected this query to is very amusing: metaphysics as the danger of an idle mind.

When I was going away to study philosophy at school, a French nun (Sister Frances) told me that in her experience it was good to study logic and ethics, but that metaphysics made people crazy.

For the ancient Greeks 'leisure' meant 'time available for learning' (our word 'school'). It was said to be the best of things by both Socrates and Aristotle. (C.E. Robinson, Hellas; Diog. L. ii, 31) Philosophical thinking is not idleness, but being busy about other things may well be.

Is the language of religion nonsense?

Query: religious language is meaningless.

This requires a definition of 'meaningless'. I.e. "meaningless" -- in which sense of the word 'meaningless'? Carnap's 'without theoretical content', if that means 'pictures that are not hypotheses' -- i.e. word-pictures defined in such a way as to be neither verifiable nor falsifiable -- is one meaning of the word 'meaningless' (Schlick's "verification principle"), but there are countless others (as e.g. Wittgenstein's definition of 'nonsense' in the TLP). And what is meaningless in one sense of the word 'meaningless' need not be meaningless in other senses of that word. In another sense of that word, the words of prayers recited by children who do not know their meaning (The prayers might even be in a foreign language, Latin e.g.) are meaningless. But we also speak of "deeper meanings" and in that context non-hypothetical pictures that guide a human life and prayers that express reverence (a serious attitude towards life) are not meaningless.

We must not try to determine the meaning of religious language by following false analogies; there are many types of propositions. Religious language is not the language of mechanical physics, but that does not in itself make religious language meaningless.

If "the meaning is the use in the language" - Propositions versus hypotheses

Note: this continues the discussion M. O'C. Drury's distinction between facts and theories (Philosophy of Science).

Query: what is mathematical proof?

Mathematical proofs, being a priori deductions (cf. "analytic propositions"), are an example of rationalism; empiricism: a posteriori statements ("synthetic propositions"). Synthetic a priori: metaphysics -- or is it? In practice, don't astrophysicists, who have direct responsibility for the lives of astronauts, have full faith in their geometric proofs? Do they worry about empirical verification? ["It's always worked in the past."] Language takes its meaning from practice not from what philosophers say. Doesn't it? You know, I don't know.

On the other hand, Einstein did require verification of geometry: "Euclid without verification is not knowledge of reality."

[Mathematical proofs would also be "examples of logic" in the formal sense of 'logic', although maybe not in the Socratic sense.]

Does treating an hypothesis as though [as if] it were a fact -- make it a fact? If the use is the meaning and treated-as-a-fact is the use made of the hypothesis (which is misleadingly cast in the form of a proposition) ...

"If, although we have not verified this, these geometrical calculations correspond to reality, then such-and-such should happen, and indeed we believe it will happen without a doubt." We also say "For all practical purposes ..." Somehow I feel this cannot be right. What kind of distinction has no practical consequences? "Isn't it just that they talk rather more about some things than the rest of us?" (OC § 338) Talking more is a practical consequence. ("Even if we talk nonsense?" I don't know without examples. But that is not what I am asking here, but about cases where we are not talking nonsense.)

"... and indeed we believe it will happen without a doubt." As if mathematical certainty could be transferred to the empirical world: the same certainty in both cases, although of course the meaning of the word 'certainty' varies according to what it is applied to; mathematical certainty is not of the same type [kind] as my certainty that fire will burn me: "The kind [type] of certainty is the kind [type] of language-game" (PI II, xi, p. 224e): the first is logical [necessity]; the second is our experience of the uniformity [in some cases] of nature (If you release a rock, it will fall to the ground). In logic the possibility of a mistake [further evidence] is ruled out.

What am I asking about? -- What do I mean by 'fact': 'statement of fact' or 'artifact'?

I want to say: the artifact doesn't change regardless of anything we may say about it; talking doesn't change reality. Or does it? Not if we picture reality to be independent of us [man] -- but is it? (i.e. in what sense is it not?) I want to say: our concepts may change but our percepts do not. -- But is this correct (or even: not nonsense), because percepts without concepts are blind?

But on the other hand, Goethe: "The first thing to remember is that all fact is already theory" ("« Das höchste wäre zu begreifen, daß alles Faktische schon Theorie ist »"); and N.R. Hanson: "facts are theory-laden." Both these statements are exaggerations [which is to say that they are not false in all cases]. "Our naive, normal way of expressing ourselves shows you not a theory but only a concept" (Z § 223). Unless you want this definition: 'concept' = 'theory', but adopting that form of expression would blur many distinctions that we want to uphold.

(Neither the word 'theory' nor the word 'concept' has an essential meaning, and in some cases their grammars may overlap, e.g. 'theory' and 'conception [of something]' where both simply mean: a way of looking at things. So we find 'Freud's theory about dreams' or the question: 'What was Freud's conception of dreams?' Of course I would not use the word 'theory' this way, because in my jargon -- as in M. O'C. Drury's -- a theory must be falsifiable, in the sense of not anomaly-proof.)

The word 'concept' is too vague by far. (RFM vii § 45, p. 412)

Often when Wittgenstein uses the word 'concept' or 'concept word', he seems to mean 'common name' with the meaning of a common name being the common nature it names. But if very often or usually, rather than a defining common nature (essence), we find only "family likenesses", then what is the word 'concept' = 'common name' to mean?

Let x be a bit of language; then if the meaning of x is the use in the language we make of x, then which part of speech is x? I want to say: if x is used as a statement of fact, then x is a statement of fact. Here there is equivocation over 'used as', on the one hand to allude to 'form of expression' (in which case what I want to say is right); but on the other hand, 'used as' may mean 'treated as' (and then what I want to say is wrong). Treating something as if it were something else doesn't make it that something else. Or is a window converted into a door simply by my climbing in and out over its sill? [Is that a helpful metaphor? No, rather than bringing clarity, it brings clouds.]

If "The meaning of a word is in most cases its use in the language" (PI § 43) [Can we also say that the meaning of a sentence is its use in the language? I have assumed that above] ... -- But that does not imply that the use is always obvious. [There is "disguised nonsense" as well as "patent nonsense" (PI § 464).] Any statement may be treated as if it were a statement of fact ["This is how things stand": 'The rocket is in orbit'] rather than as an hypothesis (prediction) ["This is how things will stand": 'The rocket will go into orbit if ...']: a prediction is an hypothesis. -- But "treated as" only refers to our attitude not to logic; and our attitude does not convert an hypothesis into a statement of fact regardless of how certain we may feel about it. (The certainty of logic is not subjective certainty, much less induced certainty; it is the certainty of a system of rules.)

Physicists, maths, responsibility for astronauts. Question: "But if you act based [if you are willing to base vital decisions] on a theory ...?" That does not make/convert a theory into a fact. We use all kinds of bases [justifications, "grounds"] for our actions, from objective certainties to subjective more-likely-than-nots, or even "because it just feels right to me" [instinct].

[Don't imagine that we are reasonable (in the Enlightenment sense) creatures: we don't do everything for a reason, much less for a good reason. What percent of our life is based on objective certainty rather than on various degrees of conjecture? I don't know. Much less than philosophers imagine.]

Inductions are hypotheses, although they often have the form of statement-of-fact: Inductions might be all recast in the form: 'If the pattern holds/continues, then ...' 'Some birds fly south for the winter' is an hypothesis; 'In past years some birds have flown south for the winter' is a statement of fact [Can a "proposition" in Wittgenstein's early jargon have the form 'This is how things stood'? I don't know if it can.] Are statements about the past -- historical statements -- statements of fact or hypotheses? They are not hypotheses (although in some cases they are conjectures), but maybe here we need another category, not only 'proposition' ['statement-of-fact'] versus 'hypothesis'.

The Religion of Jesus

Query: Jesus's view of religion.

Albert Schweitzer's assertion that Jesus "does not think dogmatically" is something that needs thinking about, given that dogmatically is exactly the way most of Jesus' followers do think.

Jesus taught no creed (cf. "The Apostles Creed") in the Synoptic Gospels, nor did he say that God will test anyone's knowledge of doctrine. He really demanded no more than acceptance that for man goodness in the present world was the way of the Cross, although what he actually demands is far short of that: the kingdom of God belongs to those who do God's will, which is to love God with one's whole heart and one's neighbor as oneself, as the merciful Samaritan did, and keep the commandments (to honor one's parents, to neither lie nor kill nor steal nor commit idolatry), to ask forgiveness and to forgive and seek reconciliation (peace). But this demand took its light from Jesus' world-picture, according to Schweitzer, of this world's imminent coming to an end. It was a faith and a morality for the "last days" of life, as were the virtues of faith and hope, in this world before this world's transformation through Jesus' death and resurrection into the kingdom of God [the kingdom which never came, which Catholic Christianity seems to overlook, which I don't understand]. That is, unless we take the view that the writers of the Gospels profoundly misunderstood Jesus for I don't know what reason, then the acceptance of Jesus' commands presupposes the acceptance of his world-picture. Does his life and ethics make sense otherwise? (The "Apostles Creed" and its successors did not come from nowhere, but were derived from the New Testament, and by men who were well able to think.) If Jesus really does demand of his followers the way of the Cross, of self-sacrifice for one's neighbor to the point of crucifixion, then very few will belong to the kingdom of God (be saved from condemnation).

I think that all Schweitzer could say was that there are many things to learn from Jesus even if we cannot accept his world-picture [because the kingdom of God did not come], e.g. his belief in human equality in the eyes of God -- that belonging to the kingdom of God does not come through membership in a nation, tribe or church, but that the kingdom of God belongs to those, and only to those, who do what God demands of us, which any man may do if he chooses to amend his life. That is, rather than saying that Jesus did not think dogmatically, it would I think only be correct to say: Jesus did not teach dogmatically. His parables, his sermons and sayings all call upon the hearer to think: "Give an ear and try to understand. He who has ears to hear, let him hear."

A parable is a riddle. The Lord says, Solve the riddle. That means to think.

Without thinking the hearer cannot understand Jesus teaching, which is the ethics of love; he must instead ask himself: What is God's love for us, and what does love demand of us, both towards God and towards our neighbor -- if we are the children of God who loves us? (The only principle that must be accepted is that God is the Father who loves us and has made us to love one another, in contrast to the Almighty Tyrant of Nature, indifferent alike to nobility and ignobility.)

Jesus does not give his listeners set of rules that he says are God's will -- a set of rules which they are to mindlessly follow: don't eat shellfish, don't let an outsider touch you, for example, things which have nothing to do with love.

What is the good for man? That is the question. Is it a question that can be answered outside [independent of] the context of any world-picture; is it, as Socrates believed, universal? Is unremitting self-sacrifice the good for man? If Jesus' ethics can be divorced from his world-picture, then it must be. But is it? can it be? Can Jesus' death on the cross be called a good act in and of itself? Or does its goodness come from his world-picture?

What the merciful Samaritan did (Luke 10.30) was an act of kindness, which Aristotle's "definition of kindness" suggests was thought well of by the Greeks (and belongs to Plato's "definition of the good or just man" in Republic 335b-335e). But is the command "If anyone wants to be a follower of mine, let him take up his cross daily" a formula for a life lived according to the good -- or only a formula for self-destruction -- if it is divorced from Jesus' world-picture? 'Anyone who seeks to save his life in this world will lose his life [i.e. not live] in the world to come' -- Those words seem to have no sense outside Jesus' world-picture.

Can dying on a cross be called a good act if it is regarded as an end in itself rather than as an instrument. It is not an act that in and of itself would do good to anyone. It would be like jumping into a well despite there being no one there for you to rescue ("Your duty to your fellow-man is at the bottom of the well"). It would be foolishness.

Jesus ... does not think dogmatically. He formulates no doctrine. Nowhere does he demand of his hearers that they sacrifice thinking to believing. (Out of my Life and Thought, tr. A.B. Lemke (1990), Chapter 6, p. 59-60)

Is a world-picture not a doctrine (This asks for a definition of 'doctrine')? We might say: Jesus did not invent the Messianic picture, although he did give that picture his own interpretation, as had John the Baptizer; but the Messianic picture was already there. Jesus and those who chose to follow him thought inside that picture. When our Russian teacher was a boy going to school, some peasants stopped him in the field to ask if at school they taught him that the earth is round, and when he answered yes, they shook their heads in disbelief at such foolishness. The peasants did not invent the flat earth picture that they held to, but within the context of that picture, some things make sense, others don't. And the same is the case with the picture of the round earth. (Schweitzer said that those who regard Jesus as having been insane do not know Jesus' world-picture. Were the Russian peasants insane because they thought the earth was flat? It in only in the context of a world-picture (a "community of ideas") that someone is or is not sane.)

Maybe we could say that, within the context of Jesus' world-picture, he does not think dogmatically, and I think this is what Schweitzer meant: "Jesus no doubt fits his teaching into the late Jewish Messianic dogma" (ibid.). But Jesus is a questioner, not a blind follower of the Law, for example ("Man was not made for the sabbath, but the sabbath for man"); for instance, he does not demand ritual washing, food prohibitions, apartheid, superstitious practice ["Don't walk under a ladder or step on cracked pavement" -- If it really were that "the good is whatever God wills", then anything might be good, including barbaric deeds and ignoble natures: if man had made God in his own image, God might have had any human character at all, including a clown, not instead the most noble image of man (the lover only of all that is good and true and well-and-truly beautiful), John Paul II said]. He requires only the selfless kind of love shown by the merciful Samaritan ["Who is my neighbor?" In the kingdom of God Jesus speaks of, anyone who may need my help, regardless of whatever else that person may be with regard to class or nation (Luke 10.30-33)] and by Our Lord's own death on the cross.

"Who is my neighburr?" (Scottish)

... but he was not so shoourr that they understood that the imporrtunt perrsun in the parrybale was not the Good Samarrytun himself but the lawyurr who had obtained from Ourr Lorrd a deffynishun of whooum Chrristyuns were henceforrth to regarrd as their neighburr. A Chrristyun was henceforrth to regarrd as his neighburr not just the marrn who lived next doorr, but evurry singul marrn, wummun and bairrn whooum he met on the road of life and whooum he must love as himself and practice charrity towurrds if he didunt wnat to burrun for everr in the flayums of hell among the publicuns and sinnurrs. (Bruce Marshall, Prayer for a Concubine (London: Robert Hale, 1978), i, 5, p. 24)

But is the Scots missioner preaching in the Paris of 1938 in Marshall's story correct? Knowing who my neighbor is (the "definition" the lawyer elicited) is not loving my neighbor (as the merciful Samaritan did). The question, the answer, and the deed are all "the important person of the parable". (But the definition is, and is vitally, important: we, who have been brought up to think in the Christian way, take it for granted that we do not naturally think "That man is not my brother", but we are wrong to take it for granted: it is not natural but cultural.)

Can God command that what is not good be done?

Query: If 'right' or 'good' cannot mean 'what God orders' does this mean that a Christian must abandon belief in God?

Must a Christian believe in God? What are our criteria for membership in the class [category] of all Christians: {Christians}? Can someone say 'I don't believe in God, but I am a Christian'? or 'I am a Christian who does not believe in God' (Greene)?

Some men, as did Albert Einstein, call themselves "secular Jews" -- but what does that mean, because 'a non-religious adherent to a religion' is nonsense, unless by 'religion' is meant a 'national identity ideology' -- could Einstein have said that he belonged to the Jewish people or nation or tribe or race? Is there such a thing as a "secular Christian"? No, Christianity is not a national identity religion; there is no Christian nation. At most someone might say: "Although I am not a Christian, my points of reference (literature, symbolism, reverence, solemnity, heritage) are Christian"; cf. Wittgenstein's "Although I am not a religious man..." But that does not make someone a Christian.

Christianity and God the Father

Graham Greene called himself "a Catholic atheist", but then by 'God the Father' Greene meant a monstrous God, who is not the God Jesus taught us to call our father, although Greene somehow thought it was, as a character says, "They say God loves us. If that's love ..." but of course it isn't. (To deny Jesus' father is to deny Jesus' teaching, and that presents a problem for Greene's "Catholic atheism", if Catholic has aught to do with Christian.)

Jesus' thought and this world do not intersect

The God the Father, Jesus speaks of, is not the god of nature, but the God we find in our own hearts as the will to love, the mysterious God of the kingdom of God. God the Father is not an empirically-known god Greene's character calls "a bit of a swine". Jesus' father is not the god of nature, and yet He is the Father, the Creator. That is why it is called faith, believing that. (This is not a paradox, but a parallel: its lines of thought do not meet. Jesus' thought and this world do not intersect.)

"Religion? What is it? A forcing yourself to believe in what you know isn't true? Has religion ever worked, as electricity and steam-engines work?" (Bruce Marshall. The Stooping Venus [c. 1926], v, 4)

"And Faith ... is merely believing against all evidence to the contrary and asking no questions and being told the hell of a lot of lies." (ibid. xiii, 3

What is believed can be true or false, but what is "believed in" can be neither. God is not a "working-hypothesis" (LC i, p. 56), the concept 'God' that is, except to the primitive mind (Bonhoeffer).

Pascal's "God of the philosophers and scholars" must be proved to exist. The God of faith is not, indeed must not be (it would otherwise not be faith).

What is religion?

The word 'religion' is the source of immense conceptual confusion -- by the assumption that 'religion' has a general definition, that everything we call 'religion' has a common nature. However, there is no such common nature; instead there are Wittgenstein's "family" resemblances (which can only be identified after the fact of some thing's bearing a common name).

For example, there are Japanese Christians, but there are no Japanese Jews; and there are Chinese Buddhists, but there are no Chinese Hindus (if one must, as I have read, be born a Hindu). Judaism, Christianity and Islam are monotheisms, but Hinduism is not; there is no God or gods (no divinity) in some Buddhist sects. All as well as others are called 'religion' -- according to our held-in-common grammar for that word (our concept 'religion' is quite fluid). What is the common nature (essence) of all these religions? There is none that is defining. (Russell's Theory of Descriptions versus The Theory of Abstraction, the latter theory being a form of mysticism (metaphysics).]

"Must a Christian believe ...?" What other than 'logical necessity' might the word 'must' mean here? "A Christian follows certain moral laws; if he is ordered to disobey those laws, he must refuse." Thus I wrote earlier, that in my view, Abraham, because he did not refuse to murder his son, is our "father in childhood" [i.e. in childlike obedience to gods].

The search query's question is, I believe: if God orders that something not morally good [i.e. an evil deed] be done, then can God be good? And if God is not good, then how can He be "believed in" (trusted, honored, worshipped, loved)? Euripides: "If gods do evil then they are not gods."

At this point there is a parting of ways: either good is whatsoever God commands, or good is good in itself (The latter view entails that even God Himself cannot alter it -- or in other words, that good is independent of God's commands: even God Himself must, so to speak, bow before it).

In Scholastic Theology, God is identified with good -- i.e. God is goodness itself ("God does not have his attributes; He is his attributes"; e.g. God is not good [adj.] but God is goodness [noun]). Plato is responsible for this.

Then there is the question: how do you know what God commands -- if, that is, some interpretation of the Bible or other "sacred writings" is not your authority?

The query may suggest the question: Would God really command Abraham to kill his son -- or is that a lie -- i.e. is the Story of Abraham a defamation of God? One wants to say: "Surely, God would never command such a thing." But if good is not whatever the Bible says that God commands, then how do we decide what is good and what is not good?

Kant spoke of "the moral law within"; if that law is written on the human heart by God Himself, then why are we appalled in so many cases by what the Old Testament says about God? Is the Old Testament a lie -- in the sense that Plato accused the Greek Myths of being false stories [lies invented by poets] about the gods?

Elsewhere I made a distinction between ethics and values ('values' and 'ethics' are different concepts), saying that the natural world displays values that are not in agreement with human morality/ethics. If God created both the natural world and mankind, then which are God's values?

Saint Anselm and the essence of God

"... God is his attributes."

The notion, not that words have essential meanings, but that things have essences (essential natures). On that account, if existence is an attribute, it can belong to the essence of a thing. "God is something than which nothing greater can be conceived." Is existence an essential attribute of that "something"?

Does the essence of the greatest island imaginable include existence? If there were two islands, one existent, the other not, would the one that existed be greater than the one that did not? An island none greater than which can be conceived is an ideal -- but existence is not part of that ideal. "The island no greater than which any island can be conceived" is the ideal, and if that most perfect island were to never have existed or to were stop existing, the ideal would not be in the least diminished; nor would existence augment the ideal. In contrast, a God that could not exist would be less great than the ideal: it would be a reduced essence. But an essence cannot be reduced. A God who did not exist would not be God.

I don't see that existence would belong to the essence of a perfect island ("an island than which no greater island can be conceived"). Why would the perfect island be less perfect if it did not exist? "I don't see", although the truth is that I don't know how anyone would know one way or the other -- by what criterion -- the answer to that question. But maybe the essence of the most perfect being as such must include existence (or "being"); indeed, it would not make sense to say that it did not.

Norman Malcolm, in his essay "Anselm's Ontological Arguments" (1960, 1963), thought that Anselm's proof is valid. I myself can't see what difference it makes one way or the other whether a "God of the philosophers", a something a greater than which cannot be conceived, "exists" or not.

Why an island particularly? unless you are going to say that existence must belong to the essence of any perfect thing. Including to the essence of "perfect nothingness" (nonexistence) and "perfect silence".

God's essence is said [is supposed] to guarantee his existence -- what this really means is that here what is at issue is not the existence of something.... There can be a description of what it would be like if there were gods on Olympus -- but not: "what it would be like if there were [such a thing as] God". And [to say] this determines [is to determine] the concept 'God' more precisely. (CV (1998 rev. ed.) [MS 138 30b: 17.3.1949] [CV (1980) p. 82]

But can we say what it would be like "if there were no God"? (People do say that: that there is no God, if God is both all-good and all-powerful. Schweitzer's reply: Christianity is not an explanatory religion.)

A God who is all-good and all-powerful is a phantasm from the point of view of experience. A thought-experiment. What you can't say is that it's a mirage of language, a mirage cast by language. (A thought-experiment: suppose the essential nature of God were ... A logical possibility.)

But it's hard to see what the word 'existence' would mean in St. Anselm's context. Obviously not 'existence' in the sense in which a tea kettle or an island exists. (Reasoning independently of experience: language up in the clouds, not tethered to the earth, contrary to the standard to which Socrates held philosophy.) I don't know what 'valid' and 'invalid' are to mean here ("valid argument" in the context of Aristotle's term-logic syllogisms).

If 'God' is defined as 'That than which nothing greater can be imagined', then logically God is all-good and all-powerful and exists. The point is that the logical proof that God exists is the empirical proof the God does not exist. (This is why Anselm's definition of 'God' is useless with respect to "no small matter, but how to live".)

Wittgenstein: How is the word 'God' used in the language?

The way you use the word 'God' does not show whom you mean -- but what you mean. (CV (1998 rev. ed.) [MS 132 8:11.9.1946]; CV (1980) p. 50)

Must a Christian believe in the Bible's Story of Creation -- i.e. must a Christian believe in [make use of the picture of] God the Creator? Suppose someone said: "God is not responsible for the values displayed by the natural world"? Then this person would not believe in God the Omnipotent Creator. Why does one not say that if God designed the natural world to be as it is, then God is not good, or rather: at best: God is indifferent to the good? But that won't quite do if one claims that human beings know good from evil, because one must say: God designed the laws of nature and of the human heart.

Again, who are we calling a 'Christian' -- to whom are we applying that word? To any follower of Jesus's -- even to non-dogmatic followers such as Albert Schweitzer? Or are we only calling someone a 'Christian' if he believe in certain dogmas [doctrines, creeds]?

The query itself is actually quite strange. A dogmatic Christian must believe in God. And therefore if we are only calling dogmatic believers 'Christians', the query makes no sense: because then not believing in God would entail also not believing in Christ, and therefore not being a Christian.

But if we also call non-dogmatic followers of Jesus 'Christians', then the question is: which picture of God are they not to believe in? The God of Abraham or the God who is love? And if it is the former: then how is the natural world with its endless cruelty, excluding the human heart [but only at its best], to be regarded [explained, interpreted] as love?

In sum: how do you know whether God commands evil? Your answer to that question (what your criteria are for a correct answer) will answer the query for you.

Omnipotence versus Benevolence

"The excluded middle" -- is this not a question of either/or? Either God is good or God is omnipotent. But if God is not omnipotent then God is not the answer to "Why is there something rather than nothing?". And if God is not good [i.e. all good, because despite the natural world there remains the human heart] -- i.e. if God is simply identified with physics, biology, etc. ("the laws of nature"), the values displayed by the natural world -- then of what use to us is the concept 'God', except to have "someone" to curse -- i.e. a name to invoke when we lose our tempers?

I want to say: 'God' is a useless concept for understanding existence [answering the riddle of existence], and 'gods' is a concept belonging only to poetry [myths, fairy tales]. -- Or, isn't it the case that we value the concept 'God' precisely for its explanatory power? (It is not necessarily the case that we do, but I think it is the case.) Suppose we simply identify 'God' with 'love, the goodness in the human heart', then what is the point of the concept 'God' -- i.e. this picture of God? It neither explains anything nor makes anything clearer.

"...love, the goodness in the human heart." This appears to be an obvious slight of hand [conjuring trick]: we still use the sign 'God' even though we have utterly changed its meaning; now why would we want to do that? As if to say: "set aside the picture of God the Omnipotent Creator, although of course He is that". We talk about God as if 'God' were the name of an Olympian [indeed, how else could children be taught to use that word?], but then we say that of course we do not think of God as such an Olympian; -- but then why do we talk about Him "as if" he were? Aren't we free to use other metaphors -- or is this a metaphor in appearance only. What is God -- non-anthropomorphically stated? People say: "But God is a mystery" ["We cannot say what God is, only what God is not"]. -- But no, it is that the non-Olympian grammar of 'God' is self-mystifying. We even call God 'him' -- but if by 'God' we do not mean an Olympian, then why do that? [Grammar Stripping]

Suppose someone said: "Yes, God is love, but that is not all God is; Jesus has revealed God's love to us [in his picture of the kingdom of God and by his acceptance of death], but the rest is a mystery. In the disciple John's words: "No one has ever seen God". That is the nature of faith." Then I would say that 'God' is an entirely religious concept, of no use whatever to philosophy: philosophy does not seek to spread mystery, but to make mysteries intelligible.

"Grammatically" (-- In Wittgenstein's jargon [i.e. extension of our concept], grammar includes language's rules of sense and nonsense --), maybe one might say: the mistake consists in regarding the concept 'God' as if it were an explanation -- as if it were a theory. (Z § 223) Religion isn't philosophy, and should not be confused (mixed up) with it. But we could reply: Christians have always tried to apply critical reason to religion in their theology. On the other hand, according to Augustine the formula of the Trinity that was derived from the Gospels isn't an explanation (What does "one essence, three persons" make clearer?); it is more akin to grammar: rules for how to talk about God, even if in Augustine's words this particular talk is a "babble of words".

Whether or not the Gospel's "In the beginning was the Word ... and the Word was God" is anthropomorphic [although to what other than the human "form of life" do we apply 'intellectual author'], it does say the god is responsible for the design of the natural world. "The existence of evil is a mystery." -- No, not in itself, but only as part of the whole question of the world's how-ness: evil is just another aspect of the God who "is known by the things he has made".

The picture of God as being as much evil [malevolent] as good [benevolent] -- or just indifferent ["the Clock-maker God": the deist picture of the God who has stepped back from the clock he has created and let it run without interference]: what else does "He sends his rain on the just and unjust alike" imply if not indifference -- at least with regard to this world? ["What else?" Here is one possibility.]

In the context of the Gospels, I believe it means that: things will not always be this way: that the just will live in the kingdom of God, and the unjust will be condemned (cast out of the kingdom [separated from God]): therefore the man who "hears" (understands) Jesus will repent of his sins [i.e. amend his life, way of life] rather than face the terrible consequences of continuing in sin.

If God is known by the things He has made, then God is indifferent [perhaps even capricious: "the cussedness of things" (CV p. 71)], incorporating both cruelty and kindness: the cruelty of the natural world (where the snake swallows the little mouse, the wolf devours the rabbit, the cat torments the cricket [not to mention the truly diabolical cruelty of Africa's traveler ant] and the kindness (sometimes) of the human heart. Such a God might be someone [something] to manipulate (through prayers, offerings [sacrifices]), but not someone to worship. That is, if the only thing worthy of worship is the good, and of course it is.

With respect to theodicy, the devil is not an idea that can exculpate God, unless the devil is imagined as co-equal with God. If we appeal to St. Augustine's idea that evil is simply the absence of God, the question of God's choosing to absent himself is a question that must be faced: because to permit evil is itself evil.

This is the dilemma for me. If we identify God with the values displayed by the natural world (where one reptile devours another), then God is not good, and therefore it would be unethical to worship Him. But if we identify God with the noblest values written on the human heart (and codified as ethics), then we lose the picture of God the Creator, and thereby the concept 'God' loses its overall explanatory power as the answer to "Why is there something rather than nothing?" [If one is willing to allow that the idea 'omnipotent God' has such explanatory power, and does go on to ask: why does God exist (which is not a question, but a rejection of the concept 'God')?]

What seems beyond understanding is that everyone already knows this: It makes no sense, and everyone knows that it makes no sense -- and yet believers continue to believe in God despite this knowledge. (This "knowledge" is of course no more than self-consistent thought/reason ["logic"]: it is a proof of the form: propositions derived (and not derivable [i.e. contradictory]) from other propositions, not induction e.g. [The existence of a single evil is all that is needed to prove [demonstrate] the existence of evil: more facts (evidence) cannot have an affect on the existence of that evil, either in the sense of supporting or refuting (If a single child is tortured [Ivan Karamazov], then absolute evil conclusively exists]).

Belief in the face of this knowledge is what mystifies me. Wittgenstein said: not only is it not reasonable, but it does not even pretend to be reasonable (LC p. 58; cf. 1 Cor. 1.18-24). Irrational belief [faith] is the subject, I believe, of the Book of Job, the man burdened [possessed] by faith -- not by "faith in the existence of God", but by faith in God's goodness.

When something defies understanding, it needs to be reconceived: revised, looked at differently (from a different direction).

God and the forces of nature in the Religion of Jesus

How can the will of God not be done on earth (as it is in Heaven)? (see the Lord's Prayer). Must Christianity be able to answer that question? In the future kingdom of God [or in the present kingdom of God in each of us], the will of God will be done, but it is not done now. How can that be?

A religion is monistic if it considers God to be the sum-total of all the forces at work in the universe, and, therefore, believes that in the knowledge of the universe we can attain to perfect knowledge of God. Thus, in its very nature, monism is pantheistic.

A religion is dualistic if it does not make any attempt to arrive at a full knowledge of the nature of God by examining the forces which are active in the natural world, but seeks to realize Him in accordance with the ideal conceptions of Him we carry within us. Of necessity this leads to the idea that this God stands to a certain extent in contrast with the forces of Nature, however great may be the difficulties which this involves for human reasoning. The God whom we have within us as an ideal is an ethical Personality; on the other hand, the happenings due to the forces at work in the universe bear no ethical character. Thus, the dualistic religion is theistic. (Albert Schweitzer, Christianity and the Religions of the World, tr. Powers (1923; repr. 1939), p. 24-25)

The God of Jesus is an active God, who works in man. Therefore, the religion of Jesus is not consistent pessimism ["The religious mind is said to hold a pessimistic view, if it cannot conceive the forces at work in the world of sense as the expression of divine goodness and perfection." (p. 24)], completely systematized, but it is a chaotic mixture of pessimism and optimism.

Thus, the religious philosophy of Jesus is not unified. His judgment of the natural world, it is true, is pessimistic; but to Him God is other than the sum-total of the forces at work in the world.... He is a dynamic Power for good, a mysterious Will, distinct from the world and superior to the world.... to Him we leave the future of the world. In the contrast between the world and God, who is an ethical Personality, and in the peculiar tension between pessimism and optimism lies the uniqueness of the religion of Jesus. The fact that it is not a unified system constitutes its greatness, its truth, its depth, its strength. (ibid. p. 15-16)

How can God's will not be done on earth? (It will be done in the kingdom of God.) This is precisely the question Jesus does not try to answer, and that is the genius of his doctrine, according to Schweitzer. Either we can gain an understanding of the natural how-ness of the world, or we can gain God -- but not both.

Query: why people die, philosophy.

This is a question about the ethical God, not about God the designer of Nature, because natural science can answer the natural question, and so the query asks a supernatural [metaphysical] question.

The image of God I am struggling with is: "the God of the philosophers" [later deism's "Nature's God"], an image which was brought into Western Christianity by the Catholic Church [or at least by the early Church], but which, according to Schweitzer, is not found in the religion of Jesus ["primitive Christianity"]. Jesus left unanswered the question of the relation between God and the forces of nature.

Is that what we mean by 'faith [trust] in God'? Why would we speak of 'faith' if we knew the answer?

Further, I want to say: faith amounts to not holding God responsible for the natural world, not holding God responsible for evil.

Faith and hope would not exist in the kingdom of God, because there would be no need for them: only love would exist. "Now we see through a glass darkly, but then face to face," the Apostle Paul wrote. Augustine: "This is my hope and in this hope I rejoice."

Anyone who reads the Epistles will find it said: not only that it is not reasonable; it is folly.

Not only is it not reasonable, but it doesn't pretend to be. (LC p. 58)

Is it folly to "preach a crucified" God [i.e. Jesus, and by 'God' here is not meant 'a god among gods' in the Greek sense, nor a Prometheus]? -- That is, is it "not reasonable" [i.e. unreasonable] not to hold God responsible for the evil of this world, but to regard God as our liberator from it?

"The kingdom of God is within you" -- what does it mean? "Whatever is not done from love is not done as it should be done," St. Augustine wrote, but he meant far more by 'God' than that God is love; and he certainly believed that God is the creator of nature's natural forces.

If you can accept that Jesus' religion is "not a unified system", that it is not monistic [-- I would say: if you can live with inconsistency --], then I think you can live a life of faith. Can I? No, because for me, that would mean that with respect to the riddle of existence I were willing to say: "Here I do not use reason." And I am not willing to say that. To divorce the grammar of 'God' from the grammar of 'creator of the world' does more violence to our concept 'God' than I can tolerate -- and I do not see what problem it solves [I do not seek a religious solution to the riddle].

So if you want to stay within the religious view of things, you have to struggle. (CV p. 86) [In the context where this appears, Wittgenstein is talking about character (You must struggle against temptation and your own frailty, and not instead "accept your fate" in the manner that Heraclitus's saying suggests); but as I remembered the quotation and intend it: you must struggle intellectually to come to an understanding of religion that allows you to remain inside it, if that is where you want to be.]

This discussion continues in The Christian Religion without Supernaturalism.

Site copyright © September 1998. Send Internet mail to Robert [Wesley] Angelo. Last revised: 30 March 2019 : 2019-03-30 (Original revision 17 April 2006)

The URL of this Web page:

Back to top of page

Wittgenstein's Logic of Language - Introduction and Table of Contents | Bibliography | Site Search | Site Map