Thursday, August 29, 2013

Insights from the 'Traveling Atheist' on PBS

The guy Robert Lawrence Kuhn who does the docu-show Closer to Truth on PBS-2 at 9:30 am weekdays was devoting this episode to asking the question, 'what does it feel like to be God?' I find the episodes where he asks philosophical questions of theologians to be by far the most interesting, because it actually gives the interviewees an opportunity to set the record straight. I like newscasts that choose to interview experts for their take on stories for the same reason -- they are free to give their unrestrained opinion and so you're much more likely to get the truth straight from them rather than the host of the show--if only for the reason that the host is trying not to be biased.

Here were the interesting points, (I took brief notes) and I'm sorry if I misspell any of these names:

Brian Leftowe was first, and made two points:

1. God is not temporal--he doesn't experience time like us, and He doesn't exist within His own time-continuum outside of ours. But logically, God does have something that is like temporality, in the sense that certain aspects of His knowledge are prior to/precede others. Leftowe referenced mathematical theorems as the example, where the axioms are logically precedent to the conclusions derived from those axioms. In this sense, some of God's thoughts must be "after" others in a sequence, but this continuum is not time, but possibly 'time-like.'

2. God does experience negative things -- the idea that a perfect being cannot experience grief, for example, is not necessary to believe -- just as He experiences positive things, but these don't cancel out. The negative is mitigated by His knowledge of its purpose in context--the end for which those negative (emotions, let's call them) are felt, by Him.

John Polkinghorne pointed out that the accessibility of Christianity lies in that we can -- uniquely among all faiths -- know what God is like in the person of Jesus Christ. I was pleased at this. Unfortunately, Mr. Polkinghorne accepts evolutionary history, but the point he made about trade-offs can still be applied to many questions of good versus evil. He said that the requirement for natural selection (he used the term evolution) to occur, mutations in germ line cells, necessitates mutational mechanisms, which as a consequence can cause errors in somatic (body) cells, which lead to cancer. Prior to this (explaining natural evil) he had mentioned the tried-and-true answer for the reason we have free will -- that moral evil is a necessary outcome when beings are free to choose what they will do. Freedom is necessary for love, and freedom guarantees the possibility that love will be rejected, and a refusal to love God is by its very definition sin. So freedom results in sin. In explaining why there is good and evil, the answer is that God decided that a world where people can love and in which there is evil is better than a world which does everything God tells it to, yet in which there is no such thing as, no capacity for love.

Gregory Ganza made a very interesting proposition, and that was to address the question of whether God, knowing everything, would get bored. I think, personally, this is probably the heart of the question when people have trouble fathoming an infinite mind that knows everything there is to know. It's the same problem I have with it--not a problem of belief but one of understanding. I have a hard time imagining what enjoyment I could get if I was incapable of learning because I had learned everything there was to learn, and the only thing left was to repeat what I had already done. But Ganza (Ganzell?) changed the direction of the answer--instead of talking about God's knowledge, he addressed the emotional enjoyment of God, something (that is, emotion) that is easy for me to overlook, being someone who tends toward using thought as my prior way of approaching things, rather than how I feel about them. But Ganza used marriage as a model: that he continually learns more about his wife, as a temporal person, BUT then there's an aspect in which he gets enjoyment from just dwelling on what he already knows about her, in just cherishing their relationship as it is. And for God, that enjoyment is infinite. So would He get bored? Not if you can imagine a man in love getting bored thinking about the woman he loves. And since God refers to Himself as a husband and His faithful followers as His bride, I think I can now gain a fuller appreciation, being a man, of how it may be for God to experience existence. Only that my piece of understanding is infinitesimally smaller than the whole sum of God's reality.

~ Rak Chazak

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