Fabulously absolute #4
So what I am saying is this. It is wrong to argue that because God created the universe (or because God created us; or because God is that in which ‘we live, and move, and have our being’; or because God is Being itself; or because of any one of a number of statements or claims about how things are), we ought to love God (or obey God; or worship God; or…).
I say this because we need a very good reason to think that any statement or claim about what ‘is’ (or ‘was’) the case (God created the universe; God created us; God is that in which we live and move and have our being; God is Being itself) entails any statement or claim about what ‘ought to be’ the case (we ought to love God; we ought to obey God; we ought to worship God).
By the same token a statement like ‘Life evolved by the survival of the fittest’ does not entail ‘The fittest ought to survive’.
I have not yet come across anything remotely like a good reason to think any ‘is’ implies an ‘ought’.
If we think an ‘is’ statement does imply an ‘ought’ statement it is usually because we are assuming the truth of an additional ‘ought’ premise which is not actually there. For example:
Premise (i): God created the universe.
Missing premise (ii): We ought to love the entity which created the universe.
Conclusion (iii): We ought to love God.
Premise (iv): Life evolved by the survival of the fittest.
Missing premise (v): The way life evolved is the way life ought to be.
Conclusion (vi): The fittest ought to survive.
Missing premises like (ii) and (v) are not self-evident truths.
As far as the concept of an absolute ethical-cum-metaphysical monotheistic God is concerned, we are left with the alternative that God’s ‘is’-type attributes (created the universe; created us; is that in which we live and move and have our being; is Being itself) are independent of God’s ‘ought’-type attributes (ought to be loved; ought to be obeyed; ought to be worshipped).
To make what I’m saying absolutely clear, attributes like is the supreme lawgiver, is the source of goodness and is goodness itself are ‘ought’-type attributes, not ‘is’-type attributes. This is because they are firmly in the ethical domain.
To say that God is the supreme lawgiver is to say we ought to obey God’s commands. Otherwise it just means God is a source of grammatically well-formed sentences in the imperative mood, which we can choose whether or not to obey. If that was the case, then God is not the supreme lawgiver. We are, because it is we who are deciding whether or not to obey God’s commands.
Ditto God is the source of goodness. Goodness is not something we are morally free to choose or not to choose. Someone who thinks he or she is morally free to choose whether or not to do the good thing does not understand ‘morally’ or ‘good’. Certainly the goodness which God is claimed to be the source of is the kind of ‘goodness’ which makes moral demands on us.
The traditional concept of the absolute ethical-cum-metaphysical monotheistic God is therefore a bit like a bimetallic strip. The concept behaves the way it does because separate ethical and metaphysical essences have been riveted together.
It can be an unholy alliance. Think what edge a few metaphysical attributes can add to an entity with the ethical essence typically claimed for God. (See Fabulously absolute #1 for what ‘metaphysical’ covers.)
I am God, the source of goodness. You should love me and worship me and obey my commands. But if you do not, I can destroy you as I created you. I can destroy the universe or any part of it, as I created the universe. And do not think you can hide your innermost thoughts and intentions away from me, because I know everything about everything that is, was and will be…
The metaphysical attributes warp the ethical attributes to the point of negating them.
Small wonder that dualist world-views like those found in Gnosticism, Manichaeism and Catharism were persecuted as heresies by the early Roman Catholic Church. The concept of an absolute ethical-cum-metaphysical monotheistic God was too crucial to the Church’s own unholy alliance with the terrestrial Roman Empire and its successors. It was in the interest of neither party to permit any suspicion that the God of love and goodness which legitimised their power was rotten and tyrannical at its core.
But, you may think, what if the ethical strip is in control of the metaphysical strip? What if all that omnipotence and omniscience are in the service of love and goodness? Surely that is what our traditional absolute monotheistic God is like, not the dissimulating, power-crazed despot I’ve just described?
If only. The problem is the problem of evil – and by ‘evil’ here I’m focusing particularly on suffering. It is a cliché I know, but no less profound for that. If God is an absolute metaphysical God then he, she or it at least had the power to prevent suffering being part of the make-up of the world, if no longer having the power to intervene now to prevent individual instances of suffering.
We can search the ‘Faith and Spirituality’ shelves of our bookshops in vain for clues to this puzzle. God lets us suffer so as to punish us? (So what about the innocent? What about animals? Why do criminals need to be caught?) God is testing us? (What about animals again? What if we pass the test but still go on suffering? What about the terror and shame of the libidinous priest’s next young victim?)
It is perhaps worth mentioning for completeness Buddhism’s take on suffering. This is even though Buddhism does not necessarily subscribe to an absolute ethical and/or metaphysical God. Buddhism teaches that suffering is caused by craving (tanha), which can be a deluded clinging to a certain sense of existence, to selfhood, or to the things or phenomena that we consider the cause of happiness or unhappiness. Suffering will end when craving ends and delusion is eliminated. Sorry to seem flippant, but tell that to the impala as it is strangled by a leopard.
The point is that the problem of suffering is wholly created by the assumption of an absolute ethical-cum-metaphysical monotheistic God. Take away that assumption and the problem goes away. Suffering itself does not go away alas, but at least we can stop trying to justify it – which seems like progress to me.
However much we try to keep the concept of an absolute ethical-cum-metaphysical monotheistic God on the side of the angels, it still dips into tyranny.
I’d better come clean:
Explicit premise (vii): All things capable of tyranny ought to be avoided.
© Chris Lawrence 2010.
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