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Monstrous Gods

What can be done with the concept 'God the Father'? Graham Greene's thought-experiments. Why is there a concept 'God'?

These are preliminary remarks in logic of language (Wittgenstein's expression in my jargon asks: How is sense distinguished from nonsense in philosophy?), written as I try to think through various topics that are puzzling me (Theaetetus 155c-d). Many remarks will be wind eggs (ibid. 151e), although there may be life in a few of them.

Outline of this page ...


I never felt closer to the particular questions on this page than when I was drinking (When and why). I do not feel close to them now. Wine and Christ (religion) versus wine and Socrates (philosophy): "Faith is a passion" (Wittgenstein quotes Kierkegaard as saying, CV p. 56), but what I am calling "Wittgenstein's logic of language" is not: it demands sobriety, just as self-respect demands discretion and self-control. But, I ask: where there is no place for wine, will there not also be no place for the few drops of wine the ancient Greeks poured out on the ground as an offering to God?

On the other hand, I cannot see that the concept 'faith' is necessarily bound to the concept 'passion', or, if treated as a statement of fact, that Kierkegaard's proposition is true. An arid man may be pious, for that is not a logical impossibility, nor is it contrary to experience. To say no more than we know, all we can say is that religious faith is a point of reference.

And so this page was thoroughly revised in November 2009 and much of the original was discarded. On the one hand, one can either drink alcohol or think coherently about philosophy (Both Wittgenstein and Bertrand Russell were teetotal) -- but not both. But on the other hand, in many cases it was simply that as Wittgenstein once told Drury:

These thoughts which seem so important to you now, will one day seem like a bag of old, rusty nails, no use for anything at all. (Recollections p. 118)

[I have written much later thoughts, which seem to be the last, about questions of understanding, asking Schweitzer's question, Can a goat think a man's thoughts, or a man the thoughts of God? (Isaiah 55.8-9), about religion which has nothing to do with what Pascal called "the God of the philosophers" (a God which Catholic Christianity may have too much to do with).]

"And woe to those who say nothing concerning Thee because those who say most are like the dumb" (Augustine, in Recollections p. 108). The tone of what follows is much too strident, the tone of the slave fighting to break his chains. But I came here, not to praise God, but to bury Him. And I say that without irony.

"They had God", not the God of the philosophers, however

"You remember this place before -- before the Red Shirts came? ... How happy it was then." -- "Was it? I didn't notice." -- "They had at any rate -- God." (Graham Greene, The Power and the Glory i, 1)

Greene wrote within a community of ideas: it is within the Catholic community of ideas that his ideas roamed (Questions, answers, variations, heresies). That is a community that is foreign to -- or at least very different from -- Albert Schweitzer's free-thinking Liberal Christianity. Again, this shows just "how many, many different ways people can interpret the Gospel story" (Recollections p. 106). Schweitzer wrote:

In ancient and medieval times ... [Christian] faith and piety were founded on the idea that the kingdom of God was an event in the distant future.... [T]he only possible attitude towards things concerning the kingdom was a passive one.

Things are different with modern men ... [For them] the kingdom of God is an ethical and spiritual event which is conceived as developing in this world and which requires the ethical efforts of believers for its realization. (Schweizerische Theologische Umschau. 1953 ["Swiss Theological Review"], quoted in Pilgrimage to Humanity (1961), tr. W.E. Stuermann, p. 75-76)

Nothing could be further from Catholic Christianity's medieval creed than that, for Schweitzer's thinking is not dogmatic; there are neither "souls" nor Heaven nor Hell. But, then, if the concept 'God' is reduced to a metaphor -- which, to say no more than Schweitzer knows, it as (despite his faith that it is far more) -- as in "the Ethical Personality which I find within myself", and "the starry heaven above" is reduced to being nothing more than pure mystery -- if, that is, the concept 'God' is no longer the answer to that question of the world's that-ness and how-ness (Why is there anything rather than nothing? and Why this particular world and not some other?), then is the concept 'God' any longer of philosophical importance? But, on the other hand, the God of the philosophers is of no religious importance, for we certainly cannot call that God, as Jesus did, "our Father".

The trouble is that the question Why is there anything rather than nothing? is both a philosophical and a religious question. The first must be justified by reason and experience, but the latter must not be justified by anything (for if it were, it would not be religious faith). If the answer to that question were the same there would be no trouble here. As it is, however --.

The above "grammatical remark" (i.e. reminder of our rules in our language -- definitions -- for using those words), however, does not imply that religion must be unreasonable or even nonsense. (Note that I am making a sharp distinction here between religion and philosophy, which Schweitzer did not always make.) If it were a question of justification, then we would have a natural science of God, not faith in God. We believe-in God. If I light a candle at the side altar, and I do, then I light a candle at the side altar; I simply do it [That is, "It is there -- like our life" is there OC § 559; it is a "form of life"]. There is no philosophical justification for it -- and if there were, then it could not -- by definition of our word 'faith' -- be religious faith.

If someone cannot make a conceptual connection -- if someone cannot find a connection between the pictures of the God of Nature and the Ethical God, then the concept 'God' is useless to him, except perhaps as a confused notion [vague idea, fog], or a source of unhappiness. And if anyone who needs to, but is unable to make this connection, he does not find God.... "They had at any rate -- God". Then, the whisky priest would say, they should have known that they had everything.

It seemed to him at that moment that it would have been quite easy to have been a saint. (The Power and the Glory iii, 4)

The God of Nature versus the Ethical God

This is what is called going in circles: I say the same thing over and over again -- because I cannot find a way forward, an insight that breaks out of the circle -- a conceptual reconciliation. "Go on, believe!" (CV p. 45) ... as if it were that easy. And when Wittgenstein adds, "It does no harm", then it becomes impossible, because it is anti-rational and therefore harms the soul (i.e. ethical mind), which is rational and which therefore needs philosophical integrity for its well-being.

I think the reason many thoughts originally on this page seem now to me as "useless as a bag of old, rusty nails" is that I have, because of Aristotle's (and my own) distinctions between the thinking of Socrates and Plato, been able to fully set aside the Platonic-Heraclitean Socrates, in favor of the Socrates of Xenophon as well as of Plato's Apology (I never accepted that Plato's Phaedo had aught to do with the historical Socrates) -- and because of the following as it were magical for me words of Albert Schweitzer's --

Reason, I said to myself, is given us that we may bring everything within the range of its action, even the most exalted ideas of religion. And this certainty filled me with joy. (Memoirs of Childhood and Youth, Chapter 3)

Christianity cannot take the place of thinking, but it must be founded on it. (Out of My Life and Thought, Ch. 21/Epilogue)

-- which have sunk deeply into me and allowed me to set aside everything anti-rational in Wittgenstein as well as in Plato, for the mysticisms of both those thinkers are anti-rational, anti-philosophical, and must be discarded if philosophy is, as it must, to "heal the wounded understanding". (On the other hand, two antidotes.)

Chasing its own tail, the circle: For God to be the answer to the question "Why is there anything rather than nothing?", God must be perfect -- i.e. not only all-powerful [the Elemental Force of Nature], but also all-knowing (for otherwise even God Himself would not know why He existed, and we would have to add Him to the question "Why is there anything?") and all-good ... And why all-good? Because "That's what everyone means by 'God'" [at least after Plato, and after Anselm made the connection between the concepts 'perfection' and 'goodness' seem obvious and necessary (thereby inventing "ethical monotheism", regardless of whether that rationalist notion was consistent with our experience of the world or not)] -- but that is not what Wittgenstein meant by 'God'; Wittgenstein's God, Yahweh, is neither good nor bad, but instead His word says what is good and bad, like the meter standard in Paris says what the length of 'one meter' is.

That was Wittgenstein's "Greek" versus "biblical" ["Hebraic"] distinction when talking to Drury (Recollections p. 161). I do not think that Wittgenstein's Jesus could not have called God good without uttering nonsense. Wittgenstein's "biblical" faith confronts us with God as a blunt instrument: Silence your doubts [all theodicy]: just obey! That God, of course, has nothing to do with the God of the philosophers, the Greek God.

Our struggle is of course entirely a conceptual one: it exists entirely within our own minds. It is not a question of saying who or what God is [as if we were seeking a "real definition" of an independently existing something], but of what we mean by the word 'God', what we want to do with that word, of what place it has in our thinking: The limit of God is -- concept-formation. But that is all God is -- a concept [point of reference]. The "silence of God" is only the silence of our own imagination.

The image of God in man - To whom must it be rendered?

The picture of an evolving God in Greene's The Honorary Consul (v, 3, 4) is the God of pantheism. Can one love a God who has a night [dark] side as well as a day [light] side -- i.e. who is both good and evil [God and Satan combined] --? If that mixture is God made in the image of man, well, can't one love a human being despite his dark side? I think: not that dark, not as dark as the night side of the God of pantheism. Satan -- i.e. the concept 'Satan' (the agent of evil) -- was invented to fill a real need: how to account for the night side which cannot be accounted for if God is "all good and deserving of all our love". But of course Satan is a conceptual failure because he is subservient to God and therefore the concept 'Satan' does not do the work it was invented to do: it does not allow God to escape implication [complicity] in evil.

Nothing makes sense and everyone knows that it doesn't make sense, and that is the strange thing about the whole business.

The idea of God made in man's image -- or "man made in God's image" as it is stated in the Bible (but an analogy goes from what we know to what we don't know, not vice versa) -- is earlier found in The Power and the Glory (ii, 1). However, what does it mean? In the Bible: simply that man physically resembles the Master of the Garden; Adam sees His back. It is crudely anthropomorphic, like any myth about the gods. What does it mean to Catholic Christianity? It means that the human conscience is the image of God in man. This has two parts: (1) "You shall be as gods, knowing good and evil" [Gen. 3.5], and (2) "... and render unto God what is God's" -- but what does that mean? According to Catholic Christianity, it means, with respect to morals, do what the bishops tell you to do -- or in other words, forget the freedom of conscience that was given you by the forbidden fruit: do what God -- i.e. the bishops -- tell you to do. The Church is like the Lord God of the Garden story, because neither wishes mankind to become its equal by knowing good and evil. (Of course, the story "makes no sense" if the Lord Himself put the tree and the serpent in the Garden.)

The only serviceable use I can think of for all that would be that 'what belongs to God' means 'what belongs to the image of God in man' -- i.e. to each individual man's conscience, his "knowledge of good and evil", where by the word 'God' we mean Schweitzer's Ethical Personality, not Nature's God. But that is an aside.

And that is why the police lieutenant of The Power and the Glory is not a "good man", if a man is to be judged by what he does rather than by his sincerity. Because by taking hostages, the offering of reward money [just as money had been offered to Judas], giving priests a choice between marriage [which would be to break their vows] and execution [firing squad], he tries to force men to betray their own consciences, to do what they believe to be wrong, to render unto Caesar what is God's, to break their spirits, destroy their souls. The lieutenant's desecration of the human conscience is a desecration of God Himself, because it is a desecration of God's image in man.

"They had at any rate -- God."

And, of course, that is what the lieutenant wants to take away from them. He wants to feed the poor, to teach the poor to read and write, even to entertain the poor ... but then, I ask, but then what? All the lieutenant wants is good -- but it is not enough. Because he is no longer an animal, bread and circuses is not enough for man. Yet that is what the lieutenant wants -- to recreate the Garden of Eden, in which man is kept in an eternal childhood, with the Red Shirts now playing the role of the God of the Garden [or, the Catholic bishops], deciding what is good and evil.

From Augustine, "... and our hearts are not at rest until they rest in Thee." And from Kant, "the starry heavens above and the moral law within" .... Wittgenstein: "The way you use the word 'God' shows what you mean by it, not who" [CV p. 50]. What might we mean by the word 'God' -- is it not 'the eternal questions' -- i.e. that perspective which gives life depth and dignity, without which our life would be unbearable: "a world without philosophy". Although, of course, that is to use the word 'God' figuratively, and so, rather idly. [Related page: Does Religion belong to "the childhood of mankind"? Wittgenstein thought not.]

Objective law versus thoughtful lawlessness

Note: Words that follow "Query" were searches that were directed to this site and recorded in its access logs.

Is this correct, that Jesus freed man from blind obedience to the Law, but Catholic Christianity brought it all back again, by replacing one set of rituals [magic by any other name] with another -- namely, the Church's sacraments? As if life really were a game: Here are the rules; as if there were a formula to follow to "save your soul" and "get to Heaven", like following the rules of hopscotch. "The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath." -- What does it mean? It certainly doesn't silence thought. (The author of 1 Thes. 5.21 wrote: "Test everything. Keep what is good." To test anything is to call it into question.)

Query: the lieutenant in the Power and the Glory as an agnostic.

Greene's lieutenant, like Catholic Christianity, is an example of extreme dogmatism. If any word characterizes either, it is not 'agnostic'. The lieutenant has no doubt at all about the untruth of Christianity or about the untruth of any religious faith whichever.

Dogmatic readings of the Bible have done terrible harm in human history. [Wittgenstein, whose God cannot be called to account, for "The good is whatever God commands", would say: It does not follow from that harm that those readings are incorrect.] It often seems to those who are outside the Church that every text of the Bible is read dogmatically except such texts as "Love one another as I have loved you" and "Whatever you have done to the poorest of humanity, you have also done to me", which Schweitzer called Jesus' ethic of active love.

God and the Meter Stick

Sophocles asks, "How justify the ways of Heaven, finding Heaven unjust?" (Philoctetes 451-2, tr. Plumptre or from Loeb Library, quoted by Will Durant). To ask this question was not unique to the Greeks, but what was perhaps unique to them was their faith that if there are any gods at all, then they must be good -- good as judged by "human standards". [Why "human"? -- As if there were any other.] What is shameful for a man to do must also be shameful for a god to do.

The Serpent in the Garden

The serpent in that strange Garden Story -- who was he?

He was a Prometheus, and like the Greek Prometheus suffered much for it (Aeschylus, Prometheus Bound), his head crushed, deprived of his limbs. -- The serpent was a Prometheus freeing mankind from an eternal childhood, an eternal animal existence.

As a human being, I am an ethical being by nature. I have a conscience, which makes me accountable for my acts, and reason with which to think though the questions of right and wrong. And precisely for that reason -- precisely because I am an ethical being -- I cannot take a vow of obedience, to blindly obey, as if I were a small child. And, indeed, what would be the point of such a vow: for nothing can ever take away from me my responsibility for everything that I do.

Catholic Christianity in effect demands a vow of obedience from all its members. Governments also claim dominion over their subjects' consciences [They call it "the rule of law"], a claim which J.M. Keynes denied the validity of, as of course he would have denied the validity of any creed's claim over the conscience of an ethical being.

"God the Father" (The Honorary Consul)

That God is good is a requirement, not the result, of our investigation (PI § 107). Why? Because anything else would be useless to us: it would be God as just another phenomenon, e.g. the Lord of physics. That is the problem with Graham Greene's "thought experiments" (Father Rivas, Dr. Fischer of Geneva): a God who is an ethical monster is of no use to us. It is God the puppet [marionette] master, God "the friend of the cobwebs". Such a God might well be feared, but he could never be respected or loved -- nor regarded as putting to rest the questions of the world's that-ness and how-ness.

The character of Dr. Plarr in The Honorary Consul says about God the Father, "To me he has always seemed a bit of swine" (v, 3, 2), and then he brings forth Ivan Karamazov's indictment of God: the suffering of innocents, e.g. of a child born without hands and feet. The idea is that: God allows this, and therefore he is not "all good and deserving of all our love" (Act of Contrition), for he is implicated in evil. One asks: why isn't this world the earthly paradise -- Jesus' kingdom of God -- that it so easily might be? Is it not because -- God is not our Father ("No father when his son asks for bread gives him a stone" [Luke 11.11]) -- but instead a monster? (Cf. the "senile delinquent" of Tennessee Williams' play.)

"Oh, love. They are always saying God loves us. If that's love I'd rather have a bit of kindness." (Greene, The Captain and the Enemy (1988), ii, 7, 1)

Liza is asked if she loves "the Captain" and that is her answer. He is kind, but God is not. Just what is Greene looking for?

... an eternal question-mark never to be answered, like the existence of God, and so, as all theologians do, I continued to write in order to turn the question over and over without any hope of an answer. (ibid. iii, 8, 1)

Not if you are going to set the criteria for an answer that Greene sets: the rules of that game themselves force you to run in a circle; Greene himself has laid the tracks on which he goes round and round ["rules of grammar" as like railroad tracks (cf. Z § 349; PI § 218: "we might imagine rails instead of a rule")]. The religious view is that ways of God the father cannot be understood (Isaiah 55.8-9: can a dog think man's [higher, or, philosophical (cf. PG i § 138, p. 191)] thoughts? and if a dog, which is a creature not unlike man cannot think man's thoughts, then how can man think the thoughts of God, who is clearly unlike man), rather than that evil can be accounted for (which is what the rational view demands). That God is the father is a mystery of faith in Jesus' religion, at least for us.

Because it was Jesus who taught Christians to call God the father, and so is not a rejection of God the Father also a rejection of Jesus' teaching and so of Jesus himself? Greene makes no distinction between the works of the devil and the works of God, and the devil's role is given to "God the Father", by whom Greene seems to mean the god of the Old Testament (who may well be compared to a demon, for what else is a god who demands tribal exclusivity and genocide against a native population), but the devil's role -- as incomprehensible as it is that God permits evil to run wild in this world -- cannot be removed from the Christian world-picture, no more than original sin can be. Jesus casts out many demons in the Gospels: "we are legion," they say to him [Luke 8.30].

We can't really talk about the Catholic Christian world-picture if we leave the devil -- not merely as the personification of evil (whatever evil as such is when it's at home), but as a personality -- out of our talk.

The devil does not belong to theodicy, of course, for that would simply suggest the further question of why a benevolent God would tolerate the devil. Rather belief in the devil -- i.e. using the concept 'devil' as an organizing principle (i.e. a way of organizing one's thinking, i.e. a way of conceiving one's perceptions) -- is consistent with human experience: Il diavolo lo fa, il diavolo lo disfa: "That's the way the devil is supposed to work to make people angry -- against God and humanity."

Greene's God the Father (the first Person of the Trinity, who is "a bit of a swine") is not the God the father of Jesus (who is the father who loves his child), but instead "the God [the Father] of the philosophers" and scholastic theologians: all powerful, all good, and all in contradiction to experience.

The father of Jesus is the source of all that is good; and the evil in the world is the work of the devil (The question of why the devil is allowed to run riot simply isn't asked; the devil is a matter of course part of a particular religious world-picture). The God of the philosophers [i.e. the rules of that grammar for the word 'God'], on the other hand, has no place for the devil -- (i.e. in its picture of things, evil should not, i.e. logically cannot, exist) --, which it makes it from a religious point of view, a "meaningless", i.e. idle [inconsequent], thought experiment.

The devil is an inseparable part of Jesus' world-picture, but also a mystery of faith (i.e. an article of belief) for Catholic Christians, who, if they set it [the devil] aside, face -- i.e. create -- the problems Greene faces, i.e. creates for himself.

Schweitzer says that we must be prepared that some things about Jesus may cause offense to our moral and religious sense, but it is our logical sense that is offended by the notion of the devil. Schweitzer does not explain evil away; he says that the Christian religion does not try to explain it at all.

The world-picture of Catholic Christianity. That isn't a world-picture that can be reconciled with an experience-tested based way of thinking. It's quite foreign to it. Of course, if God does evil things, then what does the devil do? And so God doesn't. But that is a tautology. "Tautologies of faith". God doesn't do evil, but he allows the devil to, is a doctrine that doesn't pretend to stand the test of reason.

"I had soon realized I was speaking to a Roman Catholic -- to someone who believed -- how do you put it? -- in an omnipotent and omniscient Deity, while I am what is loosely called an agnostic."

"The word 'Satan' is so anthropomorphic." (Greene, The Hint of an Explanation (1948))

As if 'all-powerful' and 'all-knowing' were not also "so anthropomorphic". Everything said about God is pseudo-analogy: "like, but not really like".

Suppose we said: If there were no wrong, then there also could be no right. And if that were so, then man could not be an ethical creature. He would be no different from the animals in not "knowing good and evil". That picture is not a justification for the suffering of innocents, but someone might regard it as an explanation of the ways of God: for no father who loves his child wants to condemn his child to an eternal childhood. On the other hand, no father wants his child to be born without hands and feet either. And in this context why should plants and animals also suffer disease and violent death, etc.

If a child is raped and murdered, its small body abandoned in a ditch beside the road, no one can say without contradiction both that God is good and that God wills evil ("the will of God"), much less say about the child's torture that "God wills to bring good out of evil" (Certainly for the child there is no good whatever in it). Unmitigated evil belongs to reality, and it is offensive to whitewash it away.

Christianity is not an explanation of anything: Faith is not based on an explanation that has been given to you. Gilson: "it does not come at the end of any philosophical argument" (The Philosopher and Theology): it just is "there -- like our life is there" (cf. OC § 559). The important point -- that faith is not justified by conclusive reasons (and if it were, it would not be what we call 'faith') -- I don't mean there may not be critical reflection, as e.g. Dostoyevsky's crucible of doubt and Pascal's "There is enough light for those who desire only to see, and enough darkness for those of a contrary disposition" (Pensées vii, 430). But if I say my faith is that "existence has a meaning, and it is a good meaning, although it is known only to God, indeed, is God" -- anyone can reply that there is no reason whatever to believe that. But to say that you reject faith as a way of life is not the same thing as to describe the way human beings live.

The non-rational -- and in man's eyes what else is the incomprehensibility of existence as such -- cannot be understood rationally, I want to say here. But, on the other hand, I also do not want to say that. "There is no place in my life where I say: Here I do not use reason" ("Reason is given us that we may bring everything within the range of its action," Schweitzer wrote) -- but not as if there weren't limits even to speculative reason (metaphysics). Anyone can reply that therefore you should simply confess your ignorance, and say no more than that you don't know (Certainly the "non-rational" is an anti-rational notion). Nonetheless the riddle of existence remains "there -- like our life", a riddle for reflection, not dismissal.

"Jacob's Ladder"

Faith does not rest on any foundation: it is not built up to; it is instead itself the beginning (These are logic of language remarks; that is, the grammar of the word 'faith' is being described here). But don't people speak of "finding faith"? Yes, but, at least according to Gilson and Bonhoeffer, the route they are speaking about is not an argument (cf. "Life can educate one to belief in God" (CV p. 86, a remark from 1950; by 'life' Wittgenstein means 'one's experience of life' and by 'experience' nothing out of the ordinary, but e.g. suffering, things like this.)

When we talked about Bavinck's book, Natural Science on its Way to Religion, he wondered whether in applying Planck's quantum theory one was allowed to speak in such self-confident tones of the dissolution of the causal-mechanical world view, and whether the construction of such a view was a necessary preliminary for the proclamation of the Church. The traffic on Jacob's ladder had not been traffic from below to above. (Ferenc Lehel, "Seen with the Eyes of a Pupil", in I Knew Dietrich Bonhoeffer, tr. K.G. Smith (1966), p. 69-70)

In the story of Jacob's dream (Genesis 28.12), Jacob does not climb the ladder or staircase up to heaven and there find the Lord God (as if he were Jack climbing the beanstalk and finding the giant), but instead Jacob finds the Lord God standing beside him on the earth -- i.e. God has found Jacob; Jacob has not found God. (The author of the book alluded to seems to believe there is a beanstalk he can climb and there find God. Is such a magical ladder to God logically possible -- i.e. faith that rests on proof is not what we call 'faith'; it would instead be a science (Wittgenstein, Frazer and magic). "... whether ... one was allowed to speak in such self-confident tones": Drury warns against basing one's philosophy on a scientific theory, for such theories are temporary constructions, not something to found one's way of thinking (or life) on.

Wittgenstein: someone may not have the strength of character to be a Christian. (But is the notion "strength of character" serviceable -- or simply a notion that is current -- but bad -- currency?) But need that account be correct? For example, can anyone embrace the Christian faith if he cannot accept that Peter denied Jesus three times -- i.e. accept that he may also deny him three times (Who forgives his brother "seventy times seven times"?) -- i.e. that faith does not make anyone perfect. May it not instead be the case that pride is what makes it impossible to "bend the knee" ... although we could say that such pride shows a weakness of character. (From which it should be clear that we could say most anything here. That is the "language game" -- that is, if we want to compare an activity so sparse in rules to a game.) [Note.--"Character", "perfect" and "bend the knee" are all allusions to remarks Wittgenstein made.]

Belief in God as such

Note: Nothing is easier than to set up a straw man God and knock it down. But to do that is only to tilt at an idle concept, a creation of your own imagining, not necessarily the God of anyone's religion. (Cf. supposing that you are criticizing someone else's face whereas you are only looking at your own reflection in the mirror: "When an ape looks in, no Apostle can look out".)

The obstacle to belief in "God the Father" is thrown up by the melding of (1) anthropomorphism with (2) "the God of the philosophers" [which is a theological construct], such that God is all-powerful, all-knowing, all-good -- and all too human. [The expression "Supreme Being" suggests a misconception (or the Master of the-world-as-marionette, like the primitive God of the Old Testament), because by 'God' we cannot mean a being of any kind (unless by 'God' we mean the God of pantheism, in which case God is not the Supreme Being but -- what? "All Of Being"). As a child I was not able to believe in God the Ghost and that is the way God is talked about to children; yet that word-picture, which is as anthropomorphic as the concept 'ghost' itself is, is not a metaphor ("because a metaphor can be restated in prose") ... A God about whom nothing can be said seems the same no God at all, 'God' an undefined word. At what point does "mystery" mean no more than self-mystification?]

The obstacle to belief in God ("God the Father") for the characters in Greene's The Honorary Consul is not as it were belief in Christ, whom they have no trouble accepting as genuinely good, indeed as the Lord. It could seem that if there is no "God the Father", then there is also no "God the Son", but nevertheless someone might actually say "I may not believe in God, but I do believe in His Son". [Catholics refer, or maybe used to refer, to Jesus by the title 'Christ' ['Jesus Christ' = 'Jesus Messiah', or I think more clearly, 'Christ Jesus' = 'Messiah Jesus', as the title comes before the name], because it seems more respectful; there is no possibility in such Catholicism of, to use Wittgenstein's words to Drury, "becoming too familiar with holy things", although on the other hand, anyone presented with the image of Christ in Michelangelo's "Last Judgment" in the Sistine Chapel, may turn to Our Lady and the saints to intercede with such a merciless Christ, rather than approach the Lord directly, which in the context of Christianity may be "becoming too unfamiliar with holy things".]

According to Catholic Christianity, Jesus is "fully human and fully divine", which is as helpful as the formula for the Trinity -- i.e. it gives you rules for what you are to say and what you are not to say: but it does not tell you the meaning of what you are to say, only the form what you say is required to take -- if it is not to be heretical [To defend against what it regards as heresy [unorthodoxy] is, I have read, normally the reason that the Catholic bishops have defined dogmas]. Belief in Christ, but not, however, belief in God. Does it make anything clearer to say that there is a "paradox" here rather than simply a contradiction? We might say it is a "paradox of faith" that someone can somehow live -- but nonetheless live -- with both the notions "God the Son" and "God the Father", finding one acceptable, the other not. Is this what Greene means by calling himself "a Catholic atheist"? I don't know. [//Obviously nothing could be further from the Christianity of Albert Schweitzer than all this.//]

"If there is only one God, then the God of Christianity must also be the God of the philosophers." -- But what if 'the God of the philosophers' is nonsense -- i.e. an incoherent notion? Wittgenstein to Drury: "It is a dogma of the Roman Church that the existence of God can be proved by natural reason. Now this dogma would make it impossible for me to be a Roman Catholic." (Recollections p. 107-108) ... but I wonder what Catholics are really obligated to believe in; they cannot be obligated to believe-in the God of the philosophers -- because that God's existence is supposedly a matter of reason, specifically of "the natural light of reason" [see Gilson's "Theology Lost" in The Philosopher and Theology (1962), esp. p. 83-84] alone (as in the "Five Ways of Knowing" of Thomas Aquinas) ... but how can the Church demand that Catholics believe that it is possible to know? "It is my faith that I can know." Very queer statement indeed. How can it? -- Because the Church cannot deny that the Bible's Book of Wisdom and Paul's Letter to the Romans say that it is possible for anyone to know of the existence and something of the nature of God "from the things he has made" (Can be known, note, "by the natural light of reason", not only by those to whom it has been revealed). But Catholics are not obliged to believe in the validity of Aquinas' Five Ways e.g. They are not obligated to believe in the validity of any argument; they are only obligated not to deny that it is possible "to know by the natural light of reason" in some way or other .... Wittgenstein: that makes nothing clearer. But, again, as with the Trinitarian formula, it is not intended to make anything clearer; it is simply intended to exclude a heresy -- namely, the denial of what it says, according to the Church's reading of it, in the Bible.

And the point of these remarks? That if the pictures that the notion "God the Father" suggest to you are as unserviceable as the arguments for God's existence -- then leave that notion alone. Because you are simply tormenting yourself with a misleading picture, a false account of that notion, e.g. the picture of God as a gigantic spider (which was the picture one of Franz Schubert's friends held to); a bad explanation (myth, picture) is infinitely more harmful than no explanation at all. It is the Christian faith that the God of Nature and the God who is an Ethical Personality are the same God. It is what Catholicism calls a "mystery of faith". That is, so far as I can see: "not only is it not reasonable; it does not even pretend to be reasonable" (TLP p. 58) -- and if it did so pretend, then it would not be faith. "The point is that if there were evidence, this would in fact destroy the whole business (ibid. p. 56). That is, not even Albert Schweitzer could say -- which he indeed never did say -- both that "There is no place in life where I would want to say: Here I do not use reason" and I accept the mystery of faith of "God the Father". It seems to me that this is precisely what Graham Greene wants to do, to say both those things. One of Greene's characters says:

"You are a Catholic. You believe in reason." (The Comedians ii, 1, 4; cf. ii, 1, 2: "Yes, we were both brought up by the Jesuits," I said. "They taught us to reason ...")

The Catholic Profession of Faith begins: "We believe in one God, the Father, the Almighty, maker of heaven and earth, of all that is seen and unseen". -- What does it mean? Are those words only a formula, like that of the Trinity? Those words suggest a picture like Michelangelo's pictures of God creating the world, but no one believes that God really looks like that, an old man with a white beard (cf. LC p. 63). -- What do you do with a picture that has no application? Compare the picture presented in the Letters and the Gospel according to John: "No one has ever seen God: it is only the son who is closest to the father's heart who has made him known"; and what Jesus has made known is that "God is love" -- i.e. he has made known the God who is an Ethical Personality. But beyond that? It is really not all that clear what Catholics are obligated to believe in, regardless of what Wittgenstein may have imagined, for how could it ever be "a dogma of the Catholic Church that the existence of God can be proved", given that questions of proof are decided by reason, not by faith. And the Jesuits teach their students to make just that distinction.

However, where does natural reason end and supernatural revelation begin? "Reason cannot contradict faith", but what if faith "appears to" contradict reason (or, the even deeper criticism: to be nonsense)? At what point are Catholics obligated to say: "Here I do not use reason"? or even: "Here I recite a babble of words"?

Etienne Gilson wrote: "The necessary condition to insure the future of Christian philosophy is to maintain the primacy of the word of God, even in philosophical inquiry" (The Philosopher and Theology p. 228-229). But by 'Christian philosophy' Gilson means 'theology' in the sense in which Thomas Aquinas was a theologian, as Gilson's autobiography makes clear; it is "faith seeking understanding" by using the tools of rationalism. But that is simply the death of philosophy, a return to a Medieval world-view. There cannot be a Christian -- or any other type of religious -- philosophy, if, that is, religion has anything to do with faith. But that does not undermine faith; how could reason undermine what does not claim to be reasonable. As I once wrote, thinking in Wittgenstein's way: Either you light a candle or you don't; -- but why you don't -- if you claim that there is a why (i.e. a justification for not doing so) -- seems to me more problematical than why anyone does light a candle. Which is the misunderstanding? [But I now think an argument can be presented against that view, namely, "Know Thyself!"]

Wittgenstein and the Irrational

As to Wittgenstein, in the end, I can see why I could never "believe the things that Catholics believe" [cf. Malcolm, Memoir, p. 60: "I could not possibly bring myself to believe all the things that [Roman Catholics] believe"] -- namely, because I cannot "believe-in" anything, because for me reason is thoroughgoing: there is no place where I [am willing to] say: "Here I do not use the tests of reason and experience" (Really?). But I do not see why Wittgenstein could not believe -- i.e. believe in -- them. Because if you can believe in one "mystery", and Wittgenstein most certainly did "in some sense or another" believe, then why not in any other mystery as well. Is it not a fundamental mistake to imagine, as Wittgenstein did, that you can understand -- make clear or clearer [cf. CV p. 85d [MS 173 92r: 1950], and Recollections p. 130] -- any mystery? For if you could, then it would not be a mystery (cf. "Evidence would in fact destroy the whole business").

We had a discussion about the difficulty of reconciling the discourses and history of the fourth Gospel with the other three. Then he suddenly said: "But if you can accept the miracle that God became man, all these difficulties are as nothing, for then I couldn't possibly say what form the record of such an event would take." (M. O'C. Drury, The Danger of Words (1973), p. xiii; cf. Recollections p. 164)

Drury gives that as an example of [what he calls] "sudden philosophical clarity by means of a full-stop" (ibid. p. xii). That is, if Wittgenstein could believe that the fourth Gospel was a record of "God became man", then why not "all the things Catholics believe" -- Why wasn't all that also "as nothing"? At the times when he considered entering a monastery, must it not have been.

Every rational faith has to choose between two things: either to be an ethical religion or to be a religion that explains the world. (Schweitzer, Christianity and the Religions of the World, tr. Johanna Powers (1923; repr. New York: 1939), p. 70)

In other words, the ethical religion is the religion that is consonant with reason and experience. The "religion that explains the world" -- a world which is ethically incomprehensible to us, in which God amounts to the elemental forces of nature, equally creative and destructive, equally functional and dysfunctional -- is not. But then, is there any reason to call "the ethical religion" faith at all?

The God who is all powerful and all good is a conceptual requirement. No such God is known either by reason -- unless rationalism be allowed to run wild, deriving one proposition from another, quite indifferent to verification, never mind to any question of sense and nonsense -- or by our experience of the world. That is, even the so-called God of the philosophers belongs to faith.

Monstrous Gods (Why is there a concept 'God'?)

Are Greene's monsters (in The Honorary Consul, in Doctor Fischer of Geneva) merely straw men? The unnamed whisky priest in The Power and the Glory is not a theologian (theological speculator): his faith is not a matter of philosophical arguments. Maybe such a man would say: Why do you trouble yourselves with speculations that can only be idle? The ways of God are a mystery to us. The "God the Father" of whom you speak is a straw god, entirely the product of your own imagination, not of our religion.

The Apostle Paul alluded to the Book of Wisdom's "God is known by the things he has made" [Rom. 1.19-23]? But what did Paul mean by that? In context one might say that: the first cause of the series -- i.e. the Creator of all that is -- cannot be a later member of the series: God cannot be a stone or a bird, for example. Beyond that, what could Paul have meant? At most Paul offers a definition of the word 'God'; his assertion of knowledge based on the creation is extremely limited: Paul does not say e.g. that one can deduce that God is love from what he has created.

Man the myth maker (We make for ourselves explanations of the facts)

We invent a concept and then trouble ourselves with it. That is our "form of life": man the myth maker -- not "man the knower" (Homo sapiens), which he is not. Man the myth-maker, and then man the mythologer, the reteller of myths. On the other hand, you could say "Homo rationalis", because what is Rationalism [Descartes and the philosophers who came out of his hat] if not myth-making [reason allowed to run wild]? But if by 'rational' we mean 'using always the tests of reason and experience', then man is not rational. [Knowing is in any case problematical: Even a fact is only a fact within some frame of reference or other, and every scientific theory is a selection of facts plus imagination.]

When we talk about God, the concept 'God', we mustn't lose sight of why we talk about God, the concept 'God'. (Why does 'God' exist?)

That is a trouble with "monstrous gods" -- they serve no purpose, satisfy no need either intellectual or spiritual. On the other hand, Wittgenstein could worship a monstrous God because in his religion it was nonsense to say that God is good -- or evil. Instead, it is God who says what is good and evil; Wittgenstein's God is like the meter standard.

Wittgenstein's monstrous picture: "If God really does choose those who are to be saved, there is no reason why he should not choose them according to nationality, race or temperament." (CV p. 72; salvation and the doctrine of the elect) I think this belonged to Wittgenstein's idea of a "one hundred percent Hebraic" religion (Recollections p. 161) -- i.e. that the good is whatever God commands (as opposed to the "Greek" view: the good is good in itself, independent of the gods [although, if the gods are themselves good, then they also command that good be done, as in Sophocles' Antigone: "Your decree, O King, has not the power to outweigh the laws of god"]).

It seems to me, however, that if Wittgenstein's account is correct, then Jesus' thinking was not "one hundred percent Hebraic", for he called God "good" ("God alone is good").

Maybe Wittgenstein could believe in a capricious God, but I do not see how Wittgenstein's concept [rule for using a word, or, picture] could possibly coincide with the God of the philosophers: how could our human notions of good and evil be so at variance with the notions of God our creator -- i.e. with the notion of fairness that exists within us as the image of God?

According to the Catholic Church there cannot be "two truths", one for religion, another, in contradiction, for physics. But that, like the dogma of "known by the natural light of reason", is a dogma. "The forces of nature may make it appear that God is capricious -- but He is not." -- That proposition is not a demonstrated truth; it is a dogma, a "mystery of faith" -- and therefore it does not tell you in what way dogma and physics are consistent. (Again, a dogma, a "mystery of faith", is not an explanation.)

"Community of Faith"

"And I want others to believe." -- "Why?" -- "Because I want them to be happy." (Greene, Monsignor Quixote) -- And if anyone can, despite everything, believe that God is a loving father, then is that not [an element of] happiness?

Sub specie aeterni

... the religious sense was lost to the English novel, and with the religious sense went the sense of the importance of the human act. (Greene, "François Mauriac")

The picture of man at the edge of a cliff, on one side Hell, on the other, if he doesn't fall, Salvation: but by his decision of any moment he may fall. The picture of eternal damnation. That is the seriousness of the act: with each decision a man risks the fate of his immortal soul. That is one sense of 'the religious sense', but it is not the only one.

Everything profound [deep about life, if life is to be seen as having any depth] comes from seeing life from the point of view of eternity. [And this is why I before wrote: "Thank you, philosophy, for having been in my life [for having been my life]."] But of course if one does not believe in [the perspective of] eternity, then everything becomes shallow, as one becomes shallow oneself. A sense [picture] of beyondness, whether in the midst (Dietrich Bonhoeffer) or not, appears to be something one has or one hasn't. Without some notion of "God" -- i.e. without the perspective of eternity -- everything deep vanishes from life. It is like having seen the starry night sky but never having been filled with wonder [awe] by its vastness, its magnificence.

"We are born, and you have to die" (and face judgment for how you have lived) [Siamo nati e dovete morire]. "... the importance of the human act" also comes from the picture of a last judgment, when an account must be given even for "every idle word spoken" (Matthew 12.36). Engelmann says that when he knew him, Wittgenstein would often say, "When we meet again at the last judgment" [Memoir p. 77]; his last words to one of his university students [H.D.P. Lee in 1931] were, "Take life seriously".

Does death belong to those pictures, because life would lose [something of] its seriousness if one's life in this world were eternal, because, given endless time, would Alexander of Macedon's words any longer be true, "The measure of a man is what he occupies himself with"? Given that there would be endless time for everything, would there be any corner of existence, any subject-matter, too unimportant to look into? I don't know.

Why do we say that man is "made in the image of God"? [In the Bible it simply means that man looks like Him; Adam sees His back as He walks in His garden; Xenophanes said that if animals had gods, each species would make them in their own image, just as men do.] God is a picture -- but not a scientific picture [or, theory; He does not belong to any hypothesis] -- of man's own making. It is significant that to Him are [sometimes] attributed the best qualities of the human soul [but not always: "My ways are not your ways," the Bible's writers have Him say; but how could there be one right and wrong for man, another for God: Yahweh is no less culpable than Joshua in the genocidal war on the Canaanites; a crime is always a crime, regardless of who commits it]. But if God is made -- i.e. if the word 'God' is defined -- in that image of ourselves, does that not commit the fallacy Drury warned against: "Reality which lies before us at every moment is replaced by the abstract picture we have ourselves created" (DW p. 100)? -- With that concept 'God', is not the grave reality which lies before us at every turn replaced with a picture of our own making [imagination]? And, on the other hand, a God consistent with our experience of the world is hardly worth making at all. Again, Graham Greene's thought experiments do not serve the purpose the concept 'God' was invented to serve. When Jesus called God "our Father", he was not stating an hypothesis [any more than when he said that "the kingdom of God is in your midst", or that his death, resurrection and return were imminent; all of this is faith].

"The picture of eternal damnation." Obviously that picture is not consistent with the God who is all-good, much less with "God is love". I never took it seriously, and I wonder if many Catholics do. Even in the Mass when in the Last Supper Jesus says "This is my body which will be given up for many" -- i.e. not for all -- I wonder how many Catholics would say that the notion of "an elect" is consistent with their own image of Christ. I do not think there are many. I do not think that "the historical Jesus" is very present in anything other than the bishops' Catholicism; e.g. predestination is a dogma, but no one ever talks about it. [Neither is any attempt ever made to make sense of the Sermon on the Mount, which of course cannot be made sense of without Jesus' picture that "the kingdom of God is in your midst" -- i.e. "This world and all it loves is coming to an end" even as I speak to you. Of course the Sermon doesn't make sense outside that context, but what need is there for anything to make sense, if the Church can call most anything a "mystery of faith".]

"Anyone is free to believe that it's all Hans Christian Andersen's The King's New Clothes." -- Is that a boast?

The sources of Greene's ideas

I've always liked reading newspapers. My enemies might say I get my ideas from theological works and newspapers. (Greene, interview, Antibes, France, in 1968)

Those works, however, seem to present God only as "the God of the philosophers", all-powerful, all-good, and all-in-contradiction to our experience of the world, notwithstanding what he has Monsignor Quixote say.

[The antithesis of the expression 'sub specie aeterni' is 'sub specie aeternitatis', i.e. 'from the point of view of the times [i.e. life in this world]' versus 'from the point of view of eternity'.]

"Negative definition of God"

Query: negative theory philosophy religious language.

"We cannot say what God is, only what God is not" -- as if modality here were not logical-grammatical [Wittgenstein's identification of logic, the study of rules, with grammar, the study of the rules of language -- most importantly for philosophy: of the rules of sense and nonsense], as if God were not a concept of our own invention. As if "having a theory about what God is" were not nonsense [Although, of course, any combination of undefined words can, if we wish, be given a sense]. Definition -- or "grammar" in Wittgenstein's jargon -- says what God is -- i.e. what we mean by the word 'God'.

Even so: is there such a thing as a "negative definition" of the word 'God'? You might give someone the instructions: "Go to my room [cf. Go out into the universe] and bring back something that does not have the qualities a, b, c ..." But in this example, the person is able to determine whether or not that "something" is there or not. But if the something sought were God, not finding God would be consistent with anything whatever that was in the room (i.e. the word 'finding', like the word 'seeking', has no application in a negative definition of 'God').

On the other hand, suppose someone said: "By 'God' we mean the Creator of all that is, and the creator is known by the things he has made"? Could you have a "scientific theory" -- i.e. a theory which by definition is empirically falsifiable -- about God? I don't know if that is a helpful comparison, but about any model of God that was offered you could say: this is or is not consistent with the world as we know it by experience; e.g. "The innocent do not suffer in this world" is an empirically false proposition. "Suppose this world were created, what would be the nature of its creator?" And so we go round in circles, driven by contradiction: God must be wholly good, but much about the world is not only not good but evil, and therefore its creator cannot be wholly good, but God must be wholly good .... This is why Graham Greene could call himself "an agnostic Catholic", because Catholicism claims to be both an ethical and an explanation-of-the-world religion and thus Catholics must founder, not on Jesus Christ, not on God the Son, but on God the Father, "the Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth".

The mystery of serious sin

"I say that home is where there is a chair and a glass." (The Power and the Glory ii, 2)

That was another mystery: it sometimes seemed to him that venial sins -- impatience, an unimportant lie, pride, a neglected opportunity -- cut you off from grace more completely than the worst sins of all. (ibid. ii, 3)

Petty sins, sins by which we "slightly" lower ourselves (e.g. irritation, impatience with the weak, envy), do not call forth God [evoke God in us]; we simply dismiss them: we are human after all, and in any case such things "don't really matter". Pettiness is a form of pride, and it, like all pride, separates us from God. -- But serious sin -- then one feels the need for God -- and, strange to say, by that feeling of need, the sinner is ennobled.

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