Conceptual Limits | Forms of Expression
Context: these are remarks in logic of language -- that is, remarks that try to make the distinction between language with meaning and nonsense in philosophical discussion clear (public, objective) by using the tool that in Wittgenstein's jargon is called 'grammar' or 'logic'.
Many of the ideas here are first blush, most stupidly stated, needing revising.
These thoughts were, at the time I wrote them, my most mature reflections. But they were, like everything else in philosophy, subject to revision. And they have been. Many times. Later thoughts are, for example, about "The way you use of the word 'God' says what, not whom you mean" (Wittgenstein), and about "Goats, man, and God", where the teaching "God is the father" is seen from a different point of view from this page's ... (There is no subject where someone's thinking may evolve more than in religion. And the thought deepens; it does not merely go elsewhere. Of course, it can't go any deeper than one is oneself.)
Our Father and the Kingdom of God
Cherry Hill, New Jersey
And so we kneel beside our loved one's grave shaking our fist at God. -- Why? Rather, here, take this handful of damp earth from the grave and throw it at Jesus over there on the cross, for it was he who taught us to call God our father ("And which of you, if your child asks for bread, will give him a stone"). It is hard to know what Jesus meant by those words, even more so if we divorce his words from his picture of the kingdom of God.
"It it not altogether easy to believe that God is a father to us," Albert Schweitzer said in Africa; and if Jesus had not said this, there would be no reason to believe it (and indeed there is no reason other than the ethical person of Jesus).
Jesus did not say God "who will be our father in the kingdom", but he called God our father now, even in "this world". That is indeed perplexing, for it was the same Jesus who called God the father who believed that the father required him to be crucified.
There is a relation between language and truth. Confucius on the reform of language: "If a father who is not fatherly were not called father ..." But this applies only if God is conceived of -- i.e. pictured as -- the world's puppet master (q.v.). Of course, there is nothing to stop anyone from regarding Jesus as a fantasist, his ideology as the dangerous creation of a fantasist.
Outline of this page ...
- Our Father and the Kingdom of God
- The Self-Limit of God
- God does not do miracles (and we would not really wish Him to)
- Propositions that are undefined language versus propositions that contradict experience
- "Bound by the laws of nature"
- Summary Conclusions
- The Self-Limit of God
- The Good, the Useful, Borderless Concepts
- Forms of life, bird's and man's
- The displacement of the concept 'God' as a "working hypothesis" answer to man's questions
- First impressions and expectations (quite often) = mistaken impressions and false expectations
- Or maybe this would be a Summary of Bonhoeffer's thought
- "God as a working-hypothesis"
- An example of Bonhoeffer's project of reinterpretation
The Self-Limit of God
The God of the philosophers is "all-powerful, all-knowing, all-good". That God does not do miracles -- but not because he is limited by the laws of physics (nature) -- but because the laws of physics are his self-made laws (Paley's Watchmaker). Thus God cannot lift Jesus from the cross, nor raise him from the dead, because God cannot do miracles, if by 'miracle' is meant 'an act that is contrary to the laws of physics', i.e. God cannot will against his own will as it were. (The philosophers do not mean by 'God' the prodigy-working Olympian-type gods of the myths.) So much for the limits of deism's God then.
But Catholic Christianity is theism: it believes both that God is all-powerful, all-knowing, all-good, and that God also does miracles. And so there is the objection: But why would God do miracles in the case of Jesus but not in the case of a suffering child? That is a religious (or theological) question, however, not philosophical one. (Language in religion is discussed elsewhere.) So much then for Catholic Christianity. And so much for an historical preface.
But if the God of the philosophers is a rather superfluous metaphysical picture, and if the God of Catholic Christianity is shipwrecked by (what non-religious thinkers call) common-sense theodicy, and if we are neither philosophers nor Catholic Christians, then, if the word 'God' is to have some role in our lives, there will have to be conceptual revision: the two Gods -- i.e. two conceptions of God (or, more clearly: two definitions, two distinct usages of the word 'God') -- will have to be somehow reconciled. (The conceptual revision-reconciliation will not, of course, be acceptable either to the philosophers or to Catholic Christians, but the conceptual revision is not undertaken for their sakes, but for ours.)
And one revision may take this form: that God is "all-powerful, but within limits". Now, how can that statement not be nonsense? By adding to that formula: "although those limits are self-imposed". God does not do miracles because he is limited by the laws of physics (i.e. nature), but those laws are God's laws, not of necessity, but by choice. By God's own choice God does not play god. Nor would we really want him to. Because we would not want to live either in chaos nor in an eternal childhood in the protective hands of God.
And now we may want to object: "... although those limits are self-imposed"? That is an example of the maddening-minded theology of anthropomorphism. What is correct to say is that God neither can nor cannot be all-powerful -- because the word 'God' is not the name of a human-like being.
If there are laws of nature, it's God's will that there be, and there's no more reason to believe that man knows them any less "in part" than he knows God in part. And so God could work miracles without "violating the laws of physics". But then man would not be free; he would not have the gift of freedom God has given him through the regularity of the natural world: God doesn't play god = God doesn't act arbitrarily. [The constancy (faithfulness) of nature]
God does not do miracles
The picture: "God as all-powerful, all-knowing, all-good." But God does not seem so very powerful -- if power is shown by deeds rather than by restraint ("Bear and forbear" is not only Epictetus' motto). Because above God stand God's laws of nature (not merely man's "laws of physics", and yes, "God's laws of nature" is a metaphysical picture; but then so is God). Or would you prefer to be a marionette, pulled this way and that by an inscrutable power? Would you prefer that events were unpredictable, that there were no regularity in nature, that when you threw a ball into the air it might fly up, or down, or sideways, or turn into a wolf and swallow you in one gulp, all at the hands of a God playing god? And if you would not prefer the life of a marionette, "then stop this foolish trifling and show by your own example what kind of men philosophy can make" (Epictetus).
God does not do miracles. Nor would we want him to.
We would not want God to play god, because, however distressed we may be by circumstances, we want to be free, not like small children or animals. (If God played god, we would exist in a state of chaos, helpless to orient ourselves: in a world of complete disorder, man cannot be free. Arbitrariness is the tool of prison interrogators.) Above all -- God is not a human personality (The stupid -- is it stupid? -- anthropomorphism of the Olympian picture: the donkey's god would spend all its time eating hay and drinking water, just as man's god is a marionetter [puppet master] to make demands on, as to an all-powerful father).
Parenthetically: of course, 'God' is our concept, our "picture"; the word, like all words, is a tool: what work do we aim to do with it? There may be a conflict between our picture of God and our experience -- if we choose the wrong picture for our purposes. Only, remember there is an important distinction between the logical possibility 'God is all-good and all-powerful' and the statement of fact 'God is all-good and all-powerful' (if the grammar of that statement allows it to be verified by experience [Copleston about the Catholic theologians: "To treat a theological proposition, such as 'God loves all men' as though it were" an empirical proposition "would be absurd". Not to treat it that way is also absurd (for what is it to mean if it is not treated that way?)]): the first concerns whatever can be described, the second whatever is or is not actual.
Is the concept 'God' a theoretical construct? Not if a theory must account for all the data (In the case of God, we would not say "for all the selected data")? "God as a working-hypothesis", the explanation of good and evil? Is that an "hypothesis" physics can ever displace? Is it a serviceable hypothesis, however.
[And so why am I forever reminding myself not to presume on life -- saying "God willing" -- why not simply "I hope"? Have I an answer? Wittgenstein: "What must the man be called, who cannot see how a reasonable man may use the word 'God' seriously?" Have I an answer to why I myself do use that word seriously? No. Nevertheless I do.]
If everything we might say about God is anthropomorphic, and God isn't man-like, then we can't talk about God. "And , not pretend like Wittgenstein that we can have it both ways: It's nonsense, but you can say it anyway: that is how Wittgenstein treats the grammar of 'God'.
Propositions that are undefined language versus propositions that contradict experience
Query: Wittgenstein God square circle.
Note: an important distinction. The proposition 'God is all good and all powerful' versus the proposition 'But all experience shows that God either isn't all good or isn't all-powerful'. Why is one ('square circle') nonsense, but the other ('God is all good and all powerful') not? Because one is a matter of experience, the other a matter of grammar! There is a difference between a contradiction in facts and a contradiction in grammatical rules. 'This simple figure is a square and not-a-square' is, if we talk the way we normally do, an undefined combination of words: 'There is an x such that x is round and x is not-round'. If 'x is round and x is not round', then there is no x -- i.e. grammatical impossibility. But that there is no 'all-good, all-powerful God' is not a grammatical impossibility; it is simply a false statement of fact -- if verification by experience belongs to its grammar -- i.e. if by 'God' we mean a picture that can be compared with the state of the world. (That is an elementary distinction, and yet it is very easy to be confused here.)
"Bound by the laws of nature"
God is bound, ethically bound by the laws of nature. He cannot raise Jesus from the dead without also curing [saving] the sick child. He cannot interfere in the course of nature to do one without also doing the other. God is ethically bound by the laws of nature.
"... that a ball when you release it might fly up, down or turn into a bird and fly away (all at the caprice of one god or another). None of us would wish to live in a world like that." And this is related to the question of Can man be free if [he is] subjected to arbitrary rule?, whether the arbitrary rule of man or the unpredictable rule of God or gods. Man is free because he is able to predict the consequences of events and of his own actions -- this is what the laws (i.e. the observable regular relationship of cause to event) of nature effects, that man is free. (Of course human freedom requires some amount of unpredictability as well, because otherwise man would be living in a calculus. However, recognizing man's ignorance of natural factors does not amount to saying that God plays god: "God as a working-hypothesis" is not necessary to account for the course of an errant [rain] storm.)
"God is ethically bound by the laws of nature." We may say that, if this is an area of our lives in which we use reason, that is a rational account. But religious belief is not about using reason or not always about that. For example, in the case of calling God our father solely because Jesus told us to, that would be a case where you really could say of the religious believer that "Here he does not use reason" (LC p. 59) but trust in the Lord.
Of course it's not as if the laws of nature were contrary to God's will; quite the contrary, the laws of nature are God's will. [To demand it be otherwise is to make God an Olympian, all too human.] Of course just what use that picture of God, i.e. that concept 'God', might have for the Christian religion, I can't imagine, because it could only be of the most tangential theism.
The "rain God sends to both the just and the unjust man" (Matthew 5.45) -- that is the laws of nature
There cannot be a proof for the existence of the God of Christianity, and a proof of the existence of the God of Stoic pantheism would be superfluous; because the God of Christianity is transcendent (God somehow -- I don't know how -- stands apart from "the world") whereas the God of Stoicism ("the God of the philosophers and scholars") is immanent (In other words, God somehow -- I don't know how -- is in all things and all things are in God). The God of Christianity is a god; that is his origin in Judaism, a god among gods, just like any Greek god; the existence of such gods, who are actual personalities (whether ethical or not), cannot be demonstrated. The existence of pantheism's god is merely grammar, deriving one grammatical proposition from others, as in Aquinas' five ways; that is the sense in which it is "superfluous": it is a proof that proves nothing: it simply displays the inter-relationships of various rules. These "cannot" are, of course, logical impossibility -- i.e. a 'demonstration of the existence of gods' is undefined language (or what might it mean)? Obviously, if the gods are transcendent no empirical -- fact of experience -- test is possible ... or what would it look like? Would it be like the test attributed to Diagoras: if a man breaks his oath (oaths invoked the gods; cf. Jesus' "swear not" (Matthew 5.34)) and he is not punished for that, then it must be the case that the gods do not exist? Obviously by any empirical test, the gods do not exist: the spiritual cannot be put to a material test [cf. LC p. 60, 56] (If it could it would not be spiritual -- i.e. what we mean by 'spiritual'). Both the Gods of Christian dualism (God and the world) and of Stoic pantheism are pictures and nothing more: they are ways of looking at "the world and life" (i.e. our experience).
[That is a summary of my reflections on Schweitzer's rejection of the historicity of Acts 17.22 ff., Paul's speech at Athens' Areopagus (The Mysticism of Paul the Apostle, tr. Montgomery (1931), p. 7-9).]
The statement [It is a rule of grammar] that we know what it would be like if there were gods on Mt. Olympus is false -- for it would be exactly the same if there were such gods as if there were not: there would be no empirical difference [no measurable difference]; just as there is no difference between God's existence or non-existence: the universe looks exactly the same either way. Or would evidence for the gods be like perceiving a rain shower in a space of only two-dimensions and trying to account for the location of the water drops ("that the visible has its source in the invisible")?
Catholic Christianity, when it identified "the God of the philosophers" with the God of Judaism caused endless conceptual confusion, because the two conceptions are just that -- two distinct concepts, that is to say, two grammars [one sign, two grammars; cf. 'cloud bank' and 'river bank', as different as that -- and yet there are similarities to confuse you: their common image of a wall e.g.]. Immanent: all things are in God and God is in all things [However, 'God' does NOT = 'nature' (much less 'the world') -- i.e. they are different concepts]; transcendent: but all things are not in Zeus and Zeus is not in all things; there is Zeus and there is the world, but the world is not in Zeus.
There can be descriptions 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 is to determine the concept 'God' more precisely. (CV p. 82, a remark from 1949)
Is that a true account of the grammar of our word 'gods' [or a mistaken "more precise determination" -- i.e. definition -- of that concept]? The gods can make themselves manifest to you -- show themselves in some form or other (a cloud, a goose) -- but you cannot seem them as they are in themselves for in themselves they are spirits [ghosts]. [Of course, it's true that Adam sees Yahweh's back when He walks in His garden (and He even hurls rocks at the heads of the Canaanites), but that is a very primitive conception (picture).]
When the main character in Greene's The Honorary Consul says about God the Father that "He's always seemed a bit of a bastard to me", that character is talking about the God of the Old Testament, not the Father of Jesus. He is using the primitive picture of God, the picture of the God who plays god.
[The torturer who boasts, "Inside these prison walls, I am God", has that primitive picture as his guide. In that picture God plays god [or, God plays the role of a god], something which God does not do (if one connects up the concept 'God' and 'laws of nature [physics]' as I have done above). But the torturer is only god in the way that Caesar Augustus was a god. ("Render ... to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's", but the torturer believes that he will never face a day of judgment, as if even Caesar himself might escape judgment!) The expression when speaking of a natural disaster such as a tidal wave or an earthquake -- if it is not to reflect that primitive picture -- should be "an act of a god", not "an act of God".]
["But who made the laws of nature," one says in reproach of that. But again to speak of 'making' is to speak anthropomorphically.]
It seems to me that whenever we say the words 'thank God' we could with no loss of meaning say 'thank goodness'. But that is not correct: it is rather that I want to say that the two forms of expression "should" be equivalent in our thinking. (The correct form of expression is, I think, not "All good things come from God" but rather that "All good things are God".) But, if that were correct, what service would remain for the word 'God' to perform? ("It seems to me ... but then again it seems not.")
Query: God is all powerful within limits.
Isn't that another way of saying that God is not all powerful, for 'to be all powerful' is 'to have no limits to one's power'. What part of 'not' don't you understand?
"God is this. God is that", as if first there were God and then came questions about God's nature; but what if: first there is the word 'God' and then the question of what gives that word meaning. That is, discussions of God always begin at the wrong end -- i.e. with God, rather than with 'God'. I.e. they always posit the existence of some vague thing and then conjecture about what the nature of the vague something they've posited is. And that is self-mystification, but nothing more.
Query: what if the word is the thing?
I.e. what if the word itself [the sign: the physical aspect of the word alone, e.g. sounds, ink marks] is the only "thing" in this case, that the word is not a name of anything? But first that grammatical possibility must suggest itself to you, because this is not a case like saying "There are no fairies in the forest", for the word 'fairy' is a name -- i.e. the name of a fairy tale object. But the case of 'God' is not like that at all (except in the most primitive pictures of God, where he walks in his garden, etc.).
The merciful Samaritan (Luke 10.25-37) - "Who is my neighbor?"
If we want the kingdom of God to come -- and that is why we pray "Thy kingdom come" -- (Jesus does not describe a prayerful merciful-Samaritan, but one who creates around himself a small village of the kingdom of God ["You can have your Lambaréné anywhere," Schweitzer said]) -- then we must work towards building it ourselves, Schweitzer wrote. To deny this is to retell Jesus' story, either to depict the Samaritan as helping only other Samaritans (e.g. "our Christian community") or as standing aside, looking on benevolently, hands behind his back, waiting for God's grace itself to help the injured man. Jesus asked "Why do you call me your master and not do what I tell you? ... Then go and do the same as the Samaritan of the story." (Contrast the story of the merciful Samaritan with the story of the rich man with Lazarus at his gate (Luke 16.19-25), as if the rich man might have answered, "No, but I did pray that God might help him.")
The student of philosophy has no master: his Amen can only come after Jesus speaks and his words have stood the tests of reason and of experience -- but yet nonetheless Jesus is the one religious landmark in my life. It seems true therefore what Schweitzer says, that the title "teacher" does not go far enough (but does "religious master" go too far?)
Why not "teacher"? I wouldn't call Jesus that, certainly not in the sense that I call Schweitzer, Wittgenstein, and Socrates my teachers. Jesus is on an entirely different level. Maybe I could express it this way, that while Socrates, Wittgenstein, and Schweitzer are the principal teachers of the intellect, Jesus is teacher of the heart. And that is a very different sort of thing. (Schweitzer's belief that compassion is the foundation of all ethics -- no, it's not that way: Christian and Platonic ethics are consistent, but philosophical ethics is founded in reason; its foundation is not non-rational (Kant's ethics is religious, not philosophical). (I will make this contrast again in the discussion "Goats, man, and God" later.)
I do not know quite what the word 'redeemed' should mean for us, but I do think that the good life for man and for me as an individual can only lie in reverence for truth and devotion to what is higher, and that to live that way is to be "saved" or "redeemed" from evil.
Paul was the only great thinker in the early Church who saw clearly that redemption, like the Kingdom, was not something in the future, but a present reality ... ("The Conception of the Kingdom of God in the Transformation of Eschatology, an Epilogue by Albert Schweitzer", tr. Coates, in E.N. Mozley (1950), p. 97)
But the kingdom of God is not the present reality, is it, for "this world and all it [mistakenly] loves" is very much the present reality? The most we might say is that "The light shines in the darkness": it shone in Jesus and it shines still in our memory of him, and to live in accord with that light is to be "redeemed' or "saved" even now from this world's evil (ignorance). The light is shown by Jesus' life and ethics of love (as in Jesus' answer to the question "Who is my neighbor?" and as in asking others for forgiveness of our wrong-doing while forgiving others their wrong-doing towards us), love which redeems or saves in the present, because it makes the kingdom of God live in us.
Many years ago, well over thirty years now, the journalist David Frost interviewed the then archbishop of Canterbury, and asked him what anyone must believe if he is to be accounted a Christian, and finally Frost wore the archbishop down to this single criterion: belief in the Resurrection (Jesus' rising from the dead). But I use a different criterion -- namely: Christian is as Christian does. I have no interest in the word 'Christian' as a noun, but only as an adjective, beyond this: a 'Christian' is a follower of Jesus, not in doctrine (world-picture), but in deeds [way of life]; Schweitzer used the phrase "piety of deeds, rather than words" . (What is the meaning of the combination of words 'belief in the Resurrection'? If this is a "picture", then how does it guide anyone's life?) As well as that interview, Professor Trudinger -- this was over thirty-five years ago -- gave us an essay to read which distinguished the question 'Are you a Muslim?' (If you go into any small village in the Middle East and you ask someone "Are you a Moslem?" he will answer "Yes. Everyone here is") from the question 'How Muslim are you?' So you can see that this idea was not original to me, but suggested by the author of that essay. And so e.g. 'Was x a Christian?' is different from the question 'Was x Christian?' (Christianity is not a tribal identity ideology; anyone can call himself a Christian or a Muslim).
Anyone can call himself a Christian, but God isn't deceived.
"Controversies that no longer carry conviction"
Now about this particular point, I agree with Bonhoeffer: these old controversies can be revived but they no longer carry conviction (I mean that queer notion "belief in"). In "Chapter 2. (e)" of his "Outline for a Book", he writes:
The problem of the Apostles' Creed? "What must I believe?" is the wrong question; antiquated controversies, especially those between the different sects ... They may at any time be revived with passion, but they no longer carry conviction.... All that we can prove is that the faith of the Bible and Christianity does not stand or fall by these issues. (Letters and Papers (1971), p. 382)
Of course my agreement is in the context of the development [evolution] of my own thinking about these topics (I can't remember who said (It may have been Norman Malcolm, but I don't know) about Culture and Value that many of Wittgenstein's remarks there are "religious remarks" (i.e. remarks made by Wittgenstein about his own religious thoughts) rather than simply remarks about the Philosophy of Religion). There are, however, many people for whom in their own thinking and way of life "to be a Christian" means to hold dogmatic beliefs, a particular world-picture (in which mythography is actually historiography written, as it were, by God himself, giving the historical account not only of the past but of the future as well: "What is reality?" Well, God himself has revealed this to us). But there are countless variations of such beliefs-in.
"Do you believe in God?" The very form of expression you use shows that you are out of your depths. According to me. On the other hand, we could say that the problem with that question is that the same person may correctly answer Yes or No to it; that is to say: 'believing in God' means so many things that, without clarification, it means nothing (It is barely useful even to provide orientation about what, if anything, we are talking about).
"God is made in the image of man"
Query: God is the expression of our highest ideals.
Karol Wojtyla said that if we had made God in our own image we might have made Him a clown or many other things, for "images of man" there are many, but we did not.
But yet in Catholic Christianity God is depicted as a merciless judge, damning wrong-doers for all eternity. If God -- i.e. the concept 'God', which like all other concepts was made by man for man's use -- were an "expression of our highest ideals", God would have only two attributes: Truth and Goodness (Note: that the good man does good to others rather than harm (He makes them better rather than worse); but in the case of eternal damnation God is made in the image of the bad man, the one who does others harm and makes them worse). And further God could not have the attribute of All-Powerful if God were "the expression of our highest ideal": He could not be the creator or sustainer of evil (Even if evil is classified as dysfunction, dysfunction belongs to the nature of things). The question is: what can we do with the concept 'God' if God is stripped of His traditional attributes? Do we need a metaphor for Truth and Goodness. That is my question: what can I do with 'God' if God is to be "the expression of our highest ideals"? Jesus is an expression of high ideals, of the ethical kingdom of God, of the ethics of love, and, as Bonhoeffer rightly points out, he made himself helpless by putting himself on the cross. Christ (the concept 'Christ'), on the other hand, the Second Person of the Trinity, is all-powerful. There is not nor has there ever been a way to reconcile All-Powerful and All-Good; in our world those attributes are disconnected by experience (The difficulty is not that the concept 'God' is a grammatical (conceptual) muddle). Some men can accept this contradiction of experience and call their acceptance by the title 'faith'; others cannot. For me, I always return to my question (although I do, in some sense, believe in God; but "in some sense", anything you like after all).
The Good, the Useful, Borderless Concepts
That the good is "good for something" -- i.e. useful -- does not tell you "good for what". A friend must be useful in order to be a good, according to Xenophon's Socrates (ii, 6, 14); "What is that fellow good for then?" -- "That fellow cheers me up when I am glum." Which should tell you that 'useful' is an extremely broad-extensive, quasi-meaningless (cf. 'thing') concept. So a selection of examples must make our meaning clear; cf. the word 'use' in Wittgenstein's "for a large class of cases, the meaning of a word is its use in the language".
"Isn't it enough for you that your daughter is good?" -- "Good? Good for what? If you're not clever, you're good for nothing!" What Schweitzer says below is indeed applicable to Dr. Sloper's version of utilitarianism.
For the only profound ethic is one which is able, on the basis of one and the same conception, to give an ethical interpretation to all that a man experiences and suffers as well as to all that he does. The great weakness of the utilitarian ethic at all times is that it can relate itself only to man's action and not to that which he undergoes, although for his full development both must be taken into account. It is only in so far as a man is purified and liberated from the world by that which he experiences and endures, that he is capable of truly ethical action. (The Mysticism of Paul the Apostle, tr. Montgomery (1931), p. 302)
I, of course, reject this contention, that a "utilitarian ethic" cannot "relate itself to that which a man undergoes ..." What is more useful to man than care of his soul, and how can that not be "related to that which he undergoes"? Is not detachment from this world, "living in the world without belonging to it" -- living in eternity by seeing the world sub specie aeterni -- the good for man?
Conceptual fluidity makes this discussion ... were it not for Schweitzer's misrepresentation, in my view, of Socrates and his Stoic descendants.
Forms of Expression, and Meaning
But if we undertake this task, as we needs must, we ought to make clear to ourselves what we are doing. We ought not to bemuse ourselves with the belief that we are simply taking over the whole of the dogmatic conceptions of Jesus and of Primitive Christianity, seeing that this is, in fact, impossible. (The Mysticism of Paul the Apostle, tr. Montgomery (1931), p. 291)
The word 'bemuse' here means 'self-mystify', 'to confuse oneself' or 'self-confuse' (reflexive). Our world-picture is not that the natural world is coming to an end even as Jesus speaks; Jesus died and the supernatural kingdom of God did not come. We cannot share his eschatology -- even if we wish to.
For the Baptist, for Jesus, and for the Primitive-Christian community the whole of Ethics falls under the concept of repentance (metánoia). By this they understand a change of mind, consisting in penitence for the past ["Forgive us our wrong-doing, as we forgive those who have wronged us" (Luke 11.4)] and the determination to live henceforward, liberated from everything earthly in expectation of the Messianic Kingdom. (ibid. p. 293)
And indeed why use the form of expression "change of heart" [as if man were not a reasonable being] rather than "change of mind"! (What is meant by 'change of heart' -- a "change of feelings" (as if those were subject to our control) or a change of attitude? But what should be the source of our attitudes -- Isn't reason the excellence that characterizes man, then? Or is man like a leaf in the wind, driven here and there by his "feelings". [Is the meaning of the word 'feelings' the same in all contexts -- is there "an essence of feeling"?]
"... indeed why"? Because that ['change of heart'] is the expression we have heard all our lives and thoughtlessly repeat. But that form of expression belongs to the Kantian picture, not to the Socratic, ethics, that Kantian ethics being a matter of irrational convictions ("categorical imperatives"), a matter of "feelings" ... But is there a common nature in these examples: 'I feel that I am going to be sick'; 'I feel sad, hopeful, cheerful, angry'; 'I feel that killing is wrong' .... In Kantian-type pictured ethics what does 'feeling' mean, then: a disposition? (Is it necessary to say "irrational" disposition? Is expecting-a-letter-in-the-post a disposition -- but it need not be irrational. [The expectation that your life will change of itself: "And you're waiting for a letter that doesn't come."])
"The heart has its reasons"
What does the word 'feeling' make clearer if we are not talking about emotions (and sensations, dispositions) but instead about thought (i.e. about what is put into words)? "I feel that it is wrong." Is that not an appeal to the irrational, as if what is irrational could be justification in philosophy or ethics? Even a long-standing inclination [disposition] is not proof in philosophy, which is discursive [discourse, discussion, back and forth cross-questioning until refutation, or its absence]. 'I feel that it is wrong' is not a proposition of ethics (but of natural history).
Pascal: "The heart has its reasons ...", but feelings aren't reasons, aren't what we call 'reasons'. Rather? "The heart has its feelings, which is a different way of knowing from knowing through discourse." But if a view is held without reason (i.e. unable to be put to the test in Socratic dialectic), we don't call it 'knowing'; certainly not in philosophy, which is a rational project: without the standard Socrates set, there could be no philosophy. [We don't say that "Reason has its feelings [of] which the heart knows not".]
Seeing a tree is concept-laden, as is feeling anger, and there is a kinship in their directness [apparent immediateness, i.e. they would be immediate were it not for the mediation of the concepts 'tree' and 'anger']. But one doesn't feel angry; one simply is angry -- i.e. in the one case (perception) there can be verification, but in the other case (i.e. feeling) verification is not possible (i.e. the word 'verification' is undefined). A feeling that comes directly to one is not a perception: or in other words, the words 'perceive' and 'feel' are not interchangeable.
For example, finding the impulse to love in one's heart (the symbolic residence of the emotions -- [The picture is that emotion-words are the names of phenomena and that phenomena must occur [take place] "somewhere"; cf. ... for isn't there a phenomenon of thinking? But logic is focused on sense and nonsense and in this instance, on our use [Wittgenstein's chosen meaning of 'meaning'] of the word 'feeling', especially in religion]) -- is no reason to connect that impulse to God. That connection -- i.e. the feeling that God is both the source and the substance of the impulse -- does not come to man directly, but rather that connection was made by a religious thinker who shared his idea with other men, although his idea would not have been agreed to by countless others without their also experiencing -- i.e. feeling -- an outpouring of love so immense as to be able to fill the whole universe with itself. The conviction -- i.e. feeling -- that God is love ... does the religious meaning of 'feeling' make itself clear here?
This strikes me as a strange form of expression: 'How do you feel about free speech?' (cf. the notion "belief in")? Doesn't the word 'feeling' suggest something irrational, namely moods. The presumption seem to be this, that "An attitude that is not justifiable must have its source in the emotions, which is the source of all irrational things" [Although many irrational beliefs are the result of mistakes in reasoning, or of ignoring the evidence of experience]. That is of course an anti-Socratic view of ethics, of right and wrong. (Cf. "Which do you feel like eating (I have an apple and a pear to offer you)?)"
But we do use the word 'feel' in the same contexts in which we say "What is your opinion of ...?" or "What do you think about free speech?" And it is not true that we do not in some cases require (or, at least, we expect the person to have; we regard them as irrational or contemptible if they haven't got) reasons for their feelings: e.g. "Why are you angry?" -- "Because I was lied to." What is the justification for your feeling (because 'because' here does not refer to a mechanical or biological cause, but to a reason)? So there is no essence of feeling (no common-nature definition of the word 'feeling'). Nonetheless, that word does suggest emotion rather than reason, the irrational way of life, and for that reason, I would use 'change of mind' rather than 'change of heart'.
When He is asked by the Priests and Levites to justify the authority which He takes upon Himself in the Temple, He puts to them the counter-question whether the baptism of John was from heaven or of men. (ibid. p. 233)
This is what is called "answering a question with a question"? However, is this a question which does indeed answer the first question? "Have you stopped beating your father?" -- "Why should I answer Yes or No?"
Words such as 'probable', 'reasonable', 'likely', 'doubtless', are not words that belong to scholarship. They tell us nothing about the facts but only about someone's response to the facts -- and also about the quality of their thinking.
"Comparative Religion" [pseudo-explanations of the origins of things based on resemblances, analogies, usually rather vague] merely replaces one myth [mythology] with another, one which seems "reasonable", "probable", "likely" to so someone or other; but it is not a fact, and it is not scholarship. The words 'probable', 'likely', 'reasonable' do not have the same meaning as 'true', although that is often how the historian's reader treat them, especially if the reader is unaware of other possibilities.
Forms of life, bird's and man's
At school many, many years ago I read that crows have a vocabulary of twenty-four words, e.g. 'farmer' and 'farmer with a gun'. But words such as this [-- But by what mark can we identify "words such as this" (By "an ostensive definition anyone can understand", where 'anyone' = 'human being'?!) --] is not what Wittgenstein has in mind, but rather moods, dispositions. Or so I think ... because if birds e.g. are expressing emotions by their song -- what understanding could our life form have of theirs.
The thought-forms which [Paul] had hitherto used proved incapable of dealing satisfactorily with the implications of his new faith. So the Apostle is driven to have recourse to another system of ideas. (Paul and His Interpreters, tr. Montgomery (1912), p. 67)
If the Christian faith of any particular period desired to free itself from Paul in order to adopt the Gospel of Jesus to its thoughts-forms ... (The Mysticism of Paul the Apostle, p. 395)
By 'thought-forms' Schweitzer did not mean the mere the "signs" of a vocabulary. For example, an English speaker may know how to use the word 'philosophy' and nonetheless ask what language that word comes from, because he need not know the word's history [i.e. that the letter combination 'ph' rather than 'f' shows that an English word's origin lie in the Greek language; that is not the case e.g. in Italian, where the Greek word philosophía becomes filosofia], as he also need not know its original meaning in that language of 'thirst for learning' [cf. Paul and His Interpreters, p. 88]. By 'thought-form' Schweitzer means not merely a different [new] form of expression but a different [a new] way of looking at [old things]: received ideas, world-pictures.
The expression 'thought-forms' used by Schweitzer (or his translator) seems equivalent to 're-conceptualization'. But when Kierkegaard wrote that it was the task of the thinkers of each age to revise the concepts then in common currency, he made a very general remark (the meaning of which is not very clear).
... which can in some way or other be expressed in Hegelian thought-forms ... (ibid. p. 15)
But is that always possible? Wittgenstein's "thought-form" [his conceptual tool] of grammar and sense and nonsense -- why suppose that every idea can be re-written in that thought-form, particularly as that thought-form is intended not to restate but to eliminate many [philosophical] problems. Can Hegel's philosophy be expressed in Wittgenstein's thought-forms? If a new way of thinking is utterly radical, it may make the expression of old ways of thinking -- not different -- but, rather, impossible.
When I gave my account of the Lord's Prayer in the Gospel according to Luke, was I expressing Jesus' ideas in different thought-forms merely? Isn't my world-picture so radically different from his that his words are -- not re-phrased, not re-expressed -- but instead given a new meaning. And obviously this new meaning resembles the old -- or there would be no point to using Jesus' words at all -- but it does nonetheless consist of mere resemblances; many Christians would utterly reject what I wrote as being a negation of what they believe.
There is no Christian religion, nor indeed five or six Christian religions, but there are instead many, many Christian religions. Not everyone belongs to a Church (a community of believers in some doctrine, dogma or creed). A 'Christian' is a follower of Jesus, in some way or another (but there are many different ways). And he may belong simply to the "community" of good men and women (known or unknown, they are already his friends), which is a community of many faiths. But that is only one possibility; there are countless others. That is what I want to do with the Gospel's words "In my father's house are many rooms".
"And other sheep have I who are not of this flock"
A heathen wrote this to a heathen, yet it has justice, sanctity, truth. I can hardly refrain from saying "Saint Socrates, pray for me!"
Erasmus, quoted by J. Bronowski (in The Ascent of Man (1973), Chapter 13, p. 427); the source of at least part of this quotation may be Erasmus' Colloquies, in the section "The Religious Treat", which "teaches what ought to be the Table-Talk of Christians", tr. N. Bailey, these words spoken by the character Nephalius:
Indeed, it was a wonderful Elevation of Mind in a Man, that knew not Christ, nor the holy Scriptures: And therefore, I can scarce forbear, when I read such Things [as "what Socrates said to Crito, a little before he drank his Poison"] of such Men, but cry out, Sancte Socrates, ora pro nobis; Saint Socrates, pray for us.
Again, there are many possibilities, for Erasmus was a Christian, although his Christianity was reformed Catholic, and he was a "humanist" -- i.e. classicist, a scholar of the literature of ancient Greece and Rome -- as well as a Christian.
"A Christian is one who lives according to the Word"
According to what I have read, Saint Justin Martyr (c. 100-165 A.D.) held that "Christ is the Word ... and all who have lived according to this Word are Christians, even ... Socrates and Heraclitus among the Greeks". Socrates was a Christian, because all are Christians who have lived according to the Word (The Gospel according to John: "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God"), that is (and now the rest of this is me assigning a meaning to Justin's words), according to Jesus' command, which is to love God (that is everything that is true and good) and to love one's neighbor as one loves oneself, in a neighborhood without boundaries.
I don't know whether Socrates thought as the aristocrats Plato and Aristotle thought, but it seems he did not, because Phaedo had been a slave and Antisthenes was of very humble origin, and Socrates welcomed them as companions as he did anyone else who was drawn to philosophy and moral virtue.
We fall short of the kingdom of God, but the Lord said, "I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repent." Man often sins against the Word through ignorance -- indeed, Socrates said that was the only reason we sin. [Socrates and the Beatitudes]
The church of good men, as it were, for "a good man, even before we meet him, is already a friend". (But will the good man recognize me as his friend? That is the question.)
Query: Jesus, Socrates compared.
The query is asking about two men whose world-pictures were so fundamentally and profoundly different as to make any comparison beyond that the life and death of each showed a complete unity of thought and deed, and that it is difficult to imagine what Western Civilization would have become without them. (Schweitzer wrote about Socrates: "What would that ancient world have become without him?")
Query: who is more ethical Jesus or Socrates?
Absurdity of comparison: such different world-pictures. But their piety and asking their hearers to question is common to them, and although the context is so different: ethics is the purpose of the questioning. They were equally ethical -- i.e. fully occupied with how man should live his life, and living that way themselves.
The displacement of the concept 'God' as a "working hypothesis" answer to man's questions
Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote about something that seems similar to my topic, but note that he often places the word 'God' inside quotation marks; now why does he do this?
Note: There is also a brief summary of Bonhoeffer's views written much later than the first blush remarks on this page.
First impressions and expectations (quite often) = mistaken impressions and false expectations
The movement that began about the thirteenth century (I'm not going to get involved in any argument about the exact date) towards the autonomy of man (in which I should include the discovery of the laws by which the world lives and deals with itself in science, social and political matters, art, ethics, and religion) has in our time reached an undoubted completion. Man has learned to deal with himself in all questions of importance without recourse to the "working hypothesis" called "God". In questions of science, art, and ethics this has become an understood thing at which no one now hardly dares to tilt. But for the last hundred years or so it has also become increasingly true of religious questions; it is becoming evident that everything gets along without "God" -- and, in fact, just as well as before. As in the scientific field, so in human affairs generally, "God" is being pushed more and more out of life, losing more and more ground. ([Tegel [Military Interrogation Prison, Berlin (p. 409)]] 8 June 1944, Letters and Papers from Prison: The enlarged edition (1971), ed. Bethge, tr. Reginald Fuller, Frank Clarke and others, p. 325-326)
He goes on to say, or I think he says, that only with respect to [the mystery of] death and guilt (Bonhoeffer does not include suffering along with death and guilt, although it seems to me that he should) has "God" any longer a (or maybe any) role [to play] in man's thinking. But that even with respect to death and guilt secular solutions were in his day being offered by existentialism and psychotherapy; however unsuccessful those solutions may be, it does show man's quest to answer all questions without any need for "God" as the answer to them. (p. 326)
Bonhoeffer in the quotation above seems to ask (because I don't know if this is really his topic) the fundamental question: what is the place of God, I mean the concept 'God', now in the Western world-picture. If you know the rules for using the word 'God', then that should tell you what the place of God, i.e. of the concept 'God', is our life, if it has any place now. (I don't know whether or not this is a theological question -- "theology as grammar" [PI § 373] -- for theologians now, i.e. whether or not they "think it worthwhile to try to define God".)
On the next page (327) Bonhoeffer says that mankind has reached its adulthood now, and that it would be both pointless and wrong for the Church to try to force man back into his adolescence. But he doesn't (at least in this letter, I think) say what the adult concept 'God' is or should be.
Now I will try to go on with the theological reflections [Bonhoeffer says that his theme is a "secular" or "non-religious interpretation of biblical concepts" (p. 359-360)] ... I had been saying that God is being increasingly pushed out of a world that has come of age, out of the spheres of our knowledge and life, and that since Kant he has been relegated to a realm beyond the world of experience. Theology has on the one hand resisted the development ... On the other hand, it has accommodated itself to the development by restricting God to the so-called ultimate questions as a deus ex machina; that means that he becomes the answer to life's problems, and the solution of its needs and conflicts. So if anyone has no such difficulties, or if he refuses to go into these things ... then either he cannot be open to God; or else he must be shown that he is, in fact, deeply involved in such problems ... ([Tegel] 30 June 1944, p. 341)
Do I understand what Bonhoeffer is saying here? Is he objecting to stationing God on the outskirts of our life, such that a man might either not be aware of God at all or, despite being aware of God, simply choose to ignore that? But the "ultimate questions", including how we should live our life, are not on the outskirts of our life: we all must live and we all must die (as must those we love), and so what does Bonhoeffer mean by 'ultimate questions'? Maybe granted, but the question remains: how is God the answer to those questions? If God has no roots in the world, no role to play in it, what is his connection to either it or to us?
"To live in a world in which God does not exist"
... we cannot be honest unless we recognize that we have to live in a world etsi deus non daretur [The sense of the Latin in Bonhoeffer's context is: which does not need God as the "working hypothesis" that explains its how-ness]. And this is just what we do recognize -- before God! God himself compels us to recognize it. So our coming of age leads us to true recognition of our situation before God. God would have us know that we must live as men who manage our lives without him. The God who is with us is the God who forsakes us (Mark 15.34 ["My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken me?" (p. 366n81)]). The God who lets us live in the world without the working hypothesis of God is the God before whom we stand continually. Before God and with God we live without God. God lets himself be pushed out of the world on to the cross. ([Tegel] 16 July , p. 360)
I think we are talking about, or I am talking about a revision of the concept 'God', or more clearly, forcefully and bluntly, a redefinition [-- Note: but I have also written an alternative account of the grammar of the word 'God' to the one I give here --] of the word 'God'. The present concept (i.e. the God of Abraham, I would say): Creator, Law-giver (and Judge, rewarder (helper) and punisher), and Governor (the maintainer of order without whom the universe would fall back into chaos). (Sometimes we revise a concept -- i.e. change the rules for using a word; but sometimes we only make clear to ourselves what the present concept is.) Do we any longer have a use -- i.e. is that concept (or, picture) 'God' in any way still serviceable (or even attractive to us in any way)? To me that seems to be the question to ask: Is there any longer any role for the concept 'God' to play in our thinking? The picture of God as Judge was very important to Wittgenstein, e.g., right up to the end of his life; see the remarks "How God judges a man ..." [CV p. 86 [MS 174 7v: 1950 § 1a], and "God may say to me: I am judging you ..." (ibid. p. 87 [MS 175 56r: 15.3.1951]). The expression "the death of God" sounds dramatic but it amounts to no more than the death of a concept -- i.e. that a word has lost its usefulness to us (e.g. if a community of thought gives only mouth-honor to God -- i.e. if that is its only use for the word 'God'): words are tools and when we no longer have any use for them, then we discard them; or, alternatively, they may evolve to have a revised (or, changed) meaning, as e.g. the primitive god Yahweh became God (Maybe you could speak of the death of a particular picture of God in some epochs or among some communities of thinkers). The question is: what can we do with the concept 'God' -- i.e. how can we define the word 'God' -- now? This seems to have been a question that concerned men in the time of Schweitzer (1875-1965) and in the time of Bonhoeffer (1906-1945); it seems to have been the question of post-Reformation (for in many ways the doctrines of the Reformation were simply variations on the doctrines of Catholic Christianity) Protestantism ... if I know what I'm talking about (and about history, I very often don't know what I'm talking about); and actually Bonhoeffer wanted to remain true to the doctrines of the Reformation; for him, 'Protestantism' still was, as it had been for Luther, 'a reformation of Catholic Christianity' (Bethge, Dietrich Bonhoeffer (Eng. tr. 1970), p. 565).
Further, Bonhoeffer believed that God does in some way direct the events of this world [or, that God in some way plays god], for otherwise why would he pray for events to occur as he wished them to (in Christian ecumenism or in Germany), or even for the forgiveness of his own sins. One need not be a theist to pray, but if one prays that things develop the way one wishes them to, then one is, and Bonhoeffer did.
Maybe when Bonhoeffer says [to] live as if there were no God, he means: to recognize that God does not play god. Variation: When Bonhoeffer says we must live as if God did not exist, I would say: we must live in acceptance that God does not play god; recognizing that that is not what God is -- i.e. what we mean by the word 'God', in contrast to the word 'gods'; only in crude pictures of God as a god does God play god. But I don't think Bonhoeffer would have said that or that it is what he is talking about here; not at all.
The words 'theism' and 'theist' are words other people use, but I myself do not think "in those terms", i.e. use that collection of concepts (that collection of categories to divide up reality). I would say: either one believes the God plays god or one does not; that is the concept or category, namely, 'God plays god', that I use. Of course, if I do not say in which way someone believes that God plays god, that form of expression is just as unclear as calling someone a theist is. And thus for Bonhoeffer: in which way/s [where in the world and/or in our life] did he believe that God plays god?
But the movement away from concern with that concept 'God' by theologians does not seem to me to have been a movement shared by most human beings. Thus who is the "we" I just spoke of? Clearly for many human beings the traditional concept is not no longer serviceable: God remains a picture that has a vital, central role in their thinking (i.e. in their lives). And should that be expected to change? "Life can educate one to belief in God ..." (ibid. p. 86 [MS 174 1v: 1950 § 1b]). Younger people who are dismissive of the religious faith of their elders or of other human beings, regarding religious faith as merely foolishness or superstition or ignorance, may learn that lesson; when for instance, if at a time of crisis or of deep feeling, a young person for the first time feels the urge to pray, this shows him that human practices arise out of human needs (cf. what I wrote about All Souls Day and Totensonntag, even if it is ahistorical and it may be, is an important observation) -- and therefore that they should not be dismissed with contempt. So that, it may be impossible to talk about "we". (I can remember what was called at the time "the death of God debate" within the Protestant community; the more dogmatic members used to quip "If your God is dead, try mine", which maybe showed no understanding of the issue -- if the very people who kill God claimed that he is not dead -- but does show the difficulty with stating generalities in religion.) The 'God' Pascal called "the God of the philosophers and wise ... [not the] God of Jesus Christ" is a metaphysical construct; it was adopted from Aristotle by Christians as an instance of "faith seeking understanding", but it is now, apparently, a way of thinking -- i.e. a grammar -- that belongs to the past, a picture with which we can now do nothing (unless our way of thinking also belongs to the past, the past that in the realm of ideas, is always as well the present; or to an even remoter past, for some people really do believe -- but what does 'believe' mean here? -- that the Pentateuch is historiography rather than mythography).
"... pushed out of the world on to the cross". But what does it mean? "A Christian must at the very least believe in Jesus' resurrection" (an Archbishop of Canterbury told Frost). But if God the Father did not raise Jesus up, then he was not resurrected. Is that Bonhoeffer's understanding [The combination of words 'the evolution of our understanding of God' is nonsense] -- i.e. the use he puts these words to (for many other meanings may be given to these words) -- of "...why hast Thou forsaken me?"? Unless he simply means to discard the concept -- i.e. the word -- 'God', what can he now do with it?
We have then the Father who allows his child to become a man? That is not the god of Abraham, "our father in faith", who commands that mankind remain an eternal child. But if the child no longer needs its Father (and the 'Father' was invented for no other purpose than to serve a human need), then what is the Father to do with Himself, so to speak? God has been put out to pasture. That particular picture has been put out to pasture, rather. But then what becomes of Jesus, who taught us to call God our Father, the Father who would grant us the kingdom of God, if Jesus was mistaken: then what role remains for him in our thinking?
Faith is faith in what?
Professor James tell us that often "our faith is faith in someone else's faith, and in the greatest matters this is most the case." (Jastrow, "The Modern Occult", x, in Fact and Fable in Psychology (1900), p. 39)
I don't know: would anyone really say, "I believe that God is the father because Jesus believed that. My faith is in Jesus' faith"? That would not seem to me a foundation that would take you through thick and thin (A house built on a weak foundation will not stand for long, and faith in someone else's faith is such a foundation). Surely your faith should be your own faith: "Make sure your religion is between you and God only," Wittgenstein told Drury. "The good is to love God with your whole heart, and your neighbor as yourself" is not a faith that will see you through the worst of it (the bitterness, the exhaustion, illnesses of life) -- if it is not your own faith, but someone else's. Your religion must be between God and you, not between Jesus and you. (Of course, the background to these remarks is the view that, although a religious master, Jesus was only a man, not the second person of the Trinity, God incarnate (as if "God is the father" were a semi-autobiographical statement). But in that case, faith is not that God is the father, but that Jesus is God.)
In his "Editor's Forward" to the Third edition, revised and enlarged, of Letters and Papers from Prison, same translators as above (1967), Eberhard Bethge (1909-2000) writes:
Bonhoeffer's simplified description of Jesus as "the man for others" [Comment: if I recall aright, that was Nietzsche's expression, Nietzsche who said that there had only ever been one Christian, namely Jesus] ... means the realization of the fundamental difference between the religious God who is all-powerful, and the Christian God who suffers and is powerless ... (p. 18)
The question is, just what is this Christian "God" -- i.e. what does Bonhoeffer mean by the word 'God' here? Was Bonhoeffer alluding to the doctrine of the Incarnation e.g.? For if you said, God became man and as a man he let himself be put on a cross where he suffered and was powerless ... but the doctrine is not that God was crucified. How can you keep the "Son" if you discard the "Father"? I don't understand this. If the "Christian God" is not also the all-powerful God, then why call the Christian God -- 'God'? And, further, why speak of the Christian God at all? Why not talk only about the man Jesus [as Schweitzer does in this letter from his youth], setting aside the Fourth Gospel myth of the Incarnation as well as the myth (picture, concept) of the religious God? For as we normally use the word 'God', if the Christian God is powerless, then the Christian God isn't 'God'. Is not the all-powerful God (which is the traditional Christian concept 'God') the very picture that is required to give any meaning to talk about God (for otherwise is not the word 'God' a sound without sense), as opposed to the all-powerful god Yahweh?
Albert Schweitzer also made a distinction between concepts in the case of 'God'. But when he contrasted the God of Nature with the God who is an Ethical Personality, he did not do this in order to dismiss the God of Nature (i.e. to discard the concept 'God of Nature'), but simply to say that Nature is, from the ethical point of view, in every way mysterious to us, and that consequently Christianity must set the concept 'God of Nature' to one side, accepting the mystery that is nature. But I don't know whether Bonhoeffer simply wants to set the concept 'religious God' aside or to discard it altogether. (But again, then what is the word 'God' to mean? For if there is no God of Nature, then neither is there a God of Love, if we use the word 'God' the way we normally do -- and why use it any other way?)
But from what Bethge writes, maybe the answers to my questions may not be found in Bonhoeffer's letters, that we are instead left with a cryptograph, that is in this case a riddle to which there is no solution, possibly because Bonhoeffer died before he could finish his project. Goethe: fragments make you think, that is to say: to try to complete them. Maybe this is part of why Bonhoeffer is important in the history of Christianity, because his letters and papers from prison have led others to have thoughts of their own.
Many of my own thoughts, e.g. about Abraham as our father in an eternal nonage (although so far as I know Bonhoeffer does not refer to Abraham in this context), seem to resemble Bonhoeffer's thoughts. However, in my remarks I was talking about God the Lawgiver, not about the God of Nature and any explanatory power that picture may have been thought to have. I was writing about freedom in ethics, not the freedom that comes from the belief that man can account for natural phenomena without needing to ever escape into the "asylum of ignorance" that is the concept 'God of Nature'.
On the other hand, it may be that I simply don't understand Bonhoeffer's way of thinking, and that maybe I find his forms of expression, or his translators' versions of them -- I want to say that I cannot figure out what he is saying in prose so to speak. It is unclear to me whether he is writing theologically or philosophically -- or if he is, in some way that is unclear to me, doing both. And what are his assumptions -- the points of Christian thought he accepts or takes for granted?
Or maybe this would be a Summary of Bonhoeffer's thought
Now for a few more thoughts on our theme. I am only gradually working my way to the non-religious interpretation of biblical concepts ...
Hugo Grotius: Law that is valid "even if there were no God"
On the historical side: There is one great development that leads to the world's autonomy. In theology one sees it first in Lord Herbert of Cherbury [1583-1648], who maintains that reason is sufficient for religious knowledge. In ethics it appears in Montaigne [1533-1592] and Bodin with their substitution of rules of life for the commandments [Comment: this was a rediscovery or reversion to the Greek way of thinking, because although a way of life might be based on commandments rather than reason -- that would not be what is called 'ethics' in philosophy]. In politics Machiavelli detaches politics from morality in general and founds the doctrine of "reasons of State". Later, and very differently from Machiavelli, but tending like him towards the autonomy of human society, comes Grotius [1583-1645], setting up his natural law as international law, which is valid etsi deus non daretur, "even if there were no God". The philosophers provide the finishing touches: one the one hand we have the deism of Descartes [1596-1650], who holds that the world is a mechanism, running by itself with no interference from God; and on the other hand the pantheism of Spinoza, who says that God is nature. In the last resort, Kant is a deist, and Fichte and Hegel are pantheists. Everywhere the thinking is directed towards the autonomy of man and the world. ([Tegel] 16 July , p. 195 (1967), p. 359 (1971))
And indeed note that in the United Nations' Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948) the word 'God' does not appear at all; and, which it is not. But "the God of the philosophers" does not need to appear in the U.N.'s Declaration in order to guarantee human rights, the origins of which lie in twenty-five centuries of human experience and reflection.)
Deism is a-theism, an example of Bonhoeffer's "God as a working-[metaphysical-]hypothesis", in this case "the God of the philosophers and schoolmen" or the clock-maker God of Nature, who does not interact with its creation (which is what theism's God does).
"God as a working-hypothesis"
The following is from a document titled "Outline for a Book" [Tegel July/August 1944]:
[Chapter 1.] (b) The religionlessness of man who has come of age. "God" as a working hypothesis, as a stop-gap for our embarrassments [at being unable to explain the phenomena of experience without using the concept 'God'], has become superfluous ...
Bonhoeffer's "God as a working-hypothesis" and Spinoza's "God as a refuge for ignorance" are related notions, because Bonhoeffer is speaking of when man does not have an explanation for a phenomenon -- i.e. he is ignorant -- he makes that phenomenon an act of God (an act caused or regulated by God), whereas when man does have an explanation for that phenomenon he dismisses God.
"God as a working-hypothesis." We still use the expression "an act of God", and if lightening strikes a house and burns it down, we call that an act of God. But we don't mean by that that God was the cause of the lightening strike. Poseidon was the cause of earthquakes; Zeus was the cause of lightening -- those are examples of God as the cause of what physics cannot explain with natural causes, or "God as a working-hypothesis", "working" because soon enough physics discards all such hypotheses by offering its own explanations of what before it seemed it could not explain.
The picture of creation before Darwin's theory of evolution -- was that an example of God as a working-hypothesis? The danger is presuming that it is as if everything had now been explained, as if we now knew far more than we do know. Physics as "an asylum of ignorance" is even less desirable than God in that role.
God is still Bonhoeffer's answer to death (for what other answer can there be?), however; -- however, it is an answer that comes to him through faith in Christ's resurrection (I think). It is certainly not an hypothesis, working or otherwise, for him.
In the case of the eternal questions, God isn't a working hypothesis. God isn't an hypothesis at all. God is the only (logically possible) possible answer, but God cannot be a real possibility (God cannot be in competition with the laws of physics, as it were. To say that God is the cause of those laws is to say nothing about physics).
Chapter 2. (a) God and the secular. (b) Who is God? Not in the first place an abstract belief in God, in his omnipotence etc. That is not a genuine experience of God, but a partial extension of the world. Encounter with Jesus Christ. The experience that a transformation of all human life is given in the fact that "Jesus is there only for others". His "being there for others" is the experience of transcendence. It is only this "being there for others", maintained till death, that is the ground of his omnipotence, omniscience, and omnipresence [Comment: Bonhoeffer does not include all-good in his list. (I never include all-knowing because God cannot very well be all-powerful without being all-knowing)]. Faith is participation in this being of Jesus (incarnation, cross, and resurrection).
Our relation to God is not a "religious" relationship to the highest, most powerful and best Being imaginable -- that is not authentic transcendence [Comment: it is also not the concept 'God', but only a variation of the concept 'god', in this instance as Zeus] -- but our relation to God is a new life in "existence for others", through participation in the being of Jesus [Comment: "being in Christ" is the Apostle Paul's theology]. The transcendental is not infinite and unattainable tasks, but the neighbor who is within reach in any given situation. God in human form -- not, as in oriental religions, in animal form, monstrous, chaotic, remote, and terrifying, nor in the conceptual forms of the absolute, metaphysical, infinite, etc. ... but "the man for others", and therefore the Crucified, the man who lives out of the transcendent. (p. 380-382 (1971 edition))
It is still not clear to me what the status of the concept 'God' is in Bonhoeffer -- specifically, is there any place for theism in the ideas of Bonhoeffer (and what does 'prayer' mean -- what does praying amount to -- if there is no place for theism)? A non-theistic God is of no interest to religion, pace Spinoza's pantheism [Is it not rather "pan-deism"?], I don't think. -- But Christianity is a religion (Important question: is Bonhoeffer using the word 'religion' in a peculiar-to-his-own-thinking way?). The "God" Bonhoeffer is clearly laying to rest is "the God of the Philosophers" and the one, I at least would call, "the god of Abraham". But both of those are straw men as it were, because they have never existed for us, except as idle pictures ... although you cannot say that about most of mankind, for whom "the god of Abraham" really is part of their world-picture. If it is a question of a non-theistic God, then we can just drop the concept 'God' altogether and just talk about the man Jesus -- but Bonhoeffer does not do that; he only discards some pictures of God [some concepts 'God'], not all.
Chapter 3 of Bonhoeffer's "Outline for a Book" (p. 282-283) discusses what the role of the clergy should be, and if there is no religion, no church -- in the sense of 'church' = 'community' (for Bonhoeffer's clergy would be without church buildings, having given all that away to the poor) -- no Christianity, but only "telling men of every calling what it means to live in Christ, to exist for others", then what need is there for clergy (i.e. what does Bonhoeffer mean by the word 'clergy')? But, then again, note that Bonhoeffer uses the words 'Christ' and 'Jesus Christ' rather than simply 'Jesus'. (In contrast, in Schweitzer's theology he only uses the name 'Jesus'; he never uses 'Christ'. 'Christ' is a religious title; it is the Greek rendering of the Hebrew word 'Messiah', so that 'Jesus Christ' is equivalent in meaning to 'Jesus Messiah', the one who was to shepherd in the supernatural Kingdom of God.) But Bonhoeffer does not discuss that topic in these letters and papers; what does he mean by 'Christ'?
He ends a letter to his friend Bethge with the words: "God bless you and all of us each day and give us strong faith" ([Tegel] 10 August , p. 384 (1971)). Whatever Bonhoeffer's ideas may be, they certainly should not be called 'secular', and I would add 'non-religious', not unless you deliberately want to mislead people. Bonhoeffer simply gets rid of idols, not God and not religion (as we normally use the word 'religion').
The time between Easter and Ascension has always been particularly important to me. Our gaze is already directed to the last thing of all [i.e. eternity (p. 247)], but we still have our tasks, our joys and our sorrows on this earth and the power of living is granted to us by Easter. ([Tegel] 10 April 1944, p. 246-247 (1971))
By which I think Bonhoeffer means something like this, which is in fact the orthodox theology of Catholic Christianity and the Reformation: Easter Sunday celebrates the resurrection of Jesus Christ, prior to his "ascension into heaven" forty days later on Ascension Thursday, during which time ("the time between Easter and Ascension") he appeared to his disciples. Those forty days symbolize our life on this earth during which, because of Jesus' redeeming death and resurrection, we belong to the body of Christ, living in Christian faith and in this way also, as it were, appearing to our fellow man, prior to our death when our life in this world ends and our life in the kingdom of Heaven begins.
I can't imagine how that could be re-expressed [restated, re-interpreted] in this world's [secular, non-religious] terms, but Bonhoeffer maybe believed that it could be, for in "Notes" he wrote: "But how, if Chr[istianity] were not a religion at all? | Worldly, non-religious interpretation of Christian concepts. | Christianity arises from the enco[unter] with a particular man: Jesus. Experience of transcendence" ([July/August 1944], p. 379). Or did he?
An example of Bonhoeffer's project of reinterpretation
The key to everything is the "in him". All that we might rightly expect from God, and ask him for, is to be found in Jesus Christ. The God of Jesus Christ has nothing to do with what God, as we imagine him, could do and ought to do. If we are to learn what God promises, and what he fulfills, we must persevere in quiet meditation on the life, sayings, deeds, sufferings, and death of Jesus.
... the truth is that if this earth was good enough for the man Jesus Christ, if such a man as Jesus lived, then, and only then, has life a meaning for us. If Jesus had not lived, then our life would be meaningless ... isn't this the simplest way of putting it? The unbiblical idea of "meaning" is indeed only a translation of what the Bible calls "promise". ([Tegel 21 August 1944], p. 391)
Is this an example of Bonhoeffer's restatement [reinterpretation] project in theology? In the "Outline for a Book" above, he says that in "Chapter 2. (c)" he plans to reinterpret in the light of "Chapter 2. (b)" -- i.e. to restate in such a way that acceptance of the idle picture of the "religious God" is not a precondition for understanding these ideas: "creation, fall, atonement, repentance, faith, the new life, and last things" (p. 382), and I think what he means is that all those ideas will be interpreted relative to the "in him" Bonhoeffer describes above. But further examples of how he will do this, if that is what his method will be, I think he does not give.
Very well, if that account is correct, then what does Bonhoeffer mean by 'worldly' or 'secular'? As is clear from his letters, he did not share the world-picture that sees this imperfect world and our life in our imperfect bodies as a miserable and to-be-despised "vale of tears", but imagines that the transformed earth Jesus describes as the kingdom of God will have things in common with this world, for in this imperfect world and in our life in it there is much that is beautiful and good.
This world is a place of exile -- but not from the bodiless existence Plato imagines -- but from the transformed earth that is the kingdom of God. In the Apostle Paul's account, at the resurrection the elect will not have a "body of death" -- i.e. one subject to disease and death -- but will nonetheless have a body. The resurrection is of the body, not of a disembodied soul. The kingdom of God is not in some place different from this earth, some place up in Plato's clouds, so to speak.
But the world-picture of Jesus, Paul and the early disciples, with its expectation of the imminent arrival of the kingdom of God, was mistaken. The kingdom did not come as that picture expected that it would following the death and resurrection of Jesus. And to say otherwise is to give an ahistorical account (Bonhoeffer's aim is not, as Schweitzer's was, the recovery of "primitive Christianity", because that world-picture is one we cannot share any more than we can find the picture of Bonhoeffer's "religious God" serviceable). But I don't know which type of account Bonhoeffer intended to use in his reinterpretations. But I do not think that for Bonhoeffer Jesus was simply a man, simply a rival to the Stoic philosophers, say, or to any other teacher of a way of life, although Bonhoeffer recognized that is the way that many or most people now see Jesus.
[Bultman] goes off into the typical liberal process of reduction -- the "mythological" elements of Christianity are dropped, and Christianity is reduced to its "essence". -- My view is that the full content, including the "mythological" concepts, must be kept -- the New Testament is not a mythological clothing of a universal truth; this mythology (resurrection etc.) is the thing itself -- but the concepts must be interpreted in such a way as not to make religion a precondition of faith (cf. Paul and circumcision). ([Tegel] 8 June 1944, p. 329)
By alluding to Paul here, Bonhoeffer seems to mean by the word 'religion': creeds, dogmas, doctrines that even the already faithful do not really believe in; for "Chapter 2. (e)", he says: "I mean, believe in such a way that we stake our lives on it? The problem of the Apostles' Creed? "What must I believe?" is the wrong question; antiquated controversies ... no longer carry conviction" (p. 382). Thus, I think, man does not need to believe in dogmas before he can understand "the life, sayings, deeds, sufferings, and death of Jesus" [cf. what Schweitzer wrote: "There was a real danger of ... refusing to leave the individual man alone with the sayings of Jesus"]. It is not the case that man must have "faith seeking understanding" [cf. "But if you do not [first] believe, you will not [i.e. cannot] understand", Augustine wrote as if that were God's law (If I recall aright, and I may not, I remember this particularly in his discussion of: "And when He will, He hardens [men's hearts against belief/faith]")]. I think that is, or may be, what Bonhoeffer means.
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