Notes from New Sodom

... rantings, ravings and ramblings of strange fiction writer, THE.... Sodomite Hal Duncan!!

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

A Response to a Response

Firstly, your assertion that God need be instantiated in a reality that is both seperate from Himself and seperate from the one in which we reside is clearly incoherent. If the first seperation is true, it would deny the omnipotence that God, by definition, embodies insofar as such a place would be necessary for God's existence.

That's rather my point about the anthropomorphic and sociomorphic absurdities of the concept of God. If we treat God as a figure (a Being) distinguishable from a ground (the Cosmos) by, say, having such features as a face, a voice, a name, a will, a law or, indeed, masculinity, if we personify the divine in this way, we are representing the divine as a Being distinct from but embodied within a Medium. The definite (which is to say de-finite) nature of such characteristics means that the attribution of said characteristics involves an act of delineation, of limitation, of establishing a boundary between Being and Cosmos, figure and ground, text and context. Absolutely this contradicts any assertion of the omnipotence of God over Cosmos. This is an inherent self-contradiction in the very language by which you describe your God, defining, delineating, limiting, bounding the divine into a figure distinct from the ground, into an Agency distinct from the Medium in which or upon which it is an agency.

To put it in the bluntest of terms, as John C does: Does your "Himself" have a cock? Why, then, do you refer to it as "Himself"? Does it have XY chromosomes? Surely not. Surely the physical definition implicit in ascribing masculinity to the divine is a contradiction of omnipotence in and of itself. Is this divine It, then, androgynous or hermaphroditic, with both sets of organs? No, no, that would be a similar heresy, a similar ascription of crude physicality. This God is neuter, then, and therefore properly spoken of as it. To ascribe features of masculinity to the divine is as blasphemous as to ascribe features of bestiality -- as in the theriomorphic deities of pagan religions so abhorred by monotheism -- the very blasphemy that iconoclasm reacts against. The failure of even the most stringently iconoclastic monotheists is that while they reject the animal heads, the horns and the hooves of theriomorphic deities they nevertheless maintain the absurd anthropomorphism of not just humanity but masculinity.

Even in its most abstracted form, if we are to understand the "masculinity" as metaphoric mapping of the relationship between this divine It and the Cosmos, a figure of speech, the notion of Agency as working upon or working within the Cosmos as Medium carries through this inherent self-contradiction of an omnipotent Being distinct from the Cosmos it must have absolute power over... an idea you rightly describe as incoherent. This is what I will henceforth refer to as the Anthropic Fallacy.

The Anthropic Fallacy is not my assertion, but that of those who have faith in a God as a Supreme Being distinct from the material Cosmos. This belief sits in contrast to more animistic beliefs and the developments from them -- such as the Tao, the Buddha Nature, the Kami -- which would happily posit divinity in its ultimate nature as instantiated in this reality and indistinguishable from it, a pervasive force lacking in the credulous limitations of God as Deus (never mind the even more ludicrous notion of God as Deus Irae, with his petulant craving for fawning sycophancy and brattish tantrums in the face of refusal, that infantile "Himself" forever throwing his Divine Teddy out the Window of Heaven). I'm rather fond of the idea of the Tao; it's not me that's dealing with Old Nobodaddy.

So... The Holy Spirit is an obvious move towards a rapprochement of God and Cosmos which depersonifies the divine in order to escape this Anthropic Fallacy. The concept of shekkinah in Judaic beliefs seems to me to embody a similar rapprochement which attempts to de-invest the divine of anthropomorphic mumbo-jumbo. It is notable, however, that these are considered secondary and subordinate forces, emanations of God as Agency. For if we were to consider these depersonified forces as primary, as equivalent to the Tao, God as personified Being is relegated to the status of demiurge.

I have no problem with putting that tinpot tyrant in his rightful place and positing an utterly impersonal divine force which is omnipresent, omnipotent and, to all intents and puposes, "omniscient" in so far as a hologrammatic implicate order would render the Big Picture available in every shard of reality. I simply don't think it has a cock. Or, for that matter, a will. That would be anthropomorphic nonsense -- the Anthropic Fallacy.

Likewise, your objection that a logically coherent statement could be made to the effect that God necessarily doesnt exist makes the mistake (so commonly made by those challenging arguments of this sort) of ignoring the nature of God as a concept. As Anselm and Plantinga would both remind you, it is a part of the definition of God that He necessarily exists. If, then, you are to hold to this definition, your reversal is simply not possible.

I would be very interested to know why you consider asserting God's existence ot be contingent rather than possible is any less a "biased" statement than the other two possibilities you mentioned. You are merely manifesting a bias towards contingency.


A more detailed dissection of propositions regarding necessary existence, then:

PREMISES:

1. Dubiety: A proposition, p, may be possible (not necessarily false), necessary (not possibly false), contingent (neither necessarily false nor necessarily true), or dubious (not necessarily true).
>>1a. A contingent proposition, p, is both possible and dubious.
2. Objectivity: For a hypothesis of a proposition, p, to be objective, it must be held falsifiable (not necessarily true) unless proven, and provable (not necessarily false) unless disproven. Where S5 collapses any possible necessity into a necessity and any dubious necessity into a non-necessity, it demonstrates that excluding falsifiability or excluding provability renders a hypothesis biased to the point of no longer being a hypothesis of potential truth and potential falsehood but a polar assertion of truth or falsehood.
>>2a. An objective hypothesis must be held contingent.
3. Supposition: An assertion about a proposition, p, is a proposition in its own right, p1. An assertion that "p is true" is a meta-proposition, a statement about the nature of the proposition, p. An assertion of a proposition, p1 ("p is true"), is a proposition about the truth-value of the proposition, p.
>>3a. An assertion of the necessary truth of a proposition, p, is a proposition, p2 ("p1 is necessary"), about the necessity of a proposition, p1 ("p is true"), about the truth-value of the proposition, p. It is a supposition of a supposition.
4. Rearticulation: Where a proposition, p, asserts only p's own necessary truth ("p is necessarily true"), for the hypothesis of this to be objective it must be rearticulated as a proposition, p2, that a proposition, p1, is necessary, where p1 is a proposition that p is true.
5. Reality: An assertion of existence is a claim of manifest reality in an actual world, W. "X(1...n) exists" is equal to "W manifests X(1...n) as a feature".

THESIS

1. If "God exists" is an objectively hypothetical proposition, P, then it is contingent. If "God exists" is not contingent then it is not an objective hypothesis.
2. If "God exists necessarily" is an objectively hypothetical proposition, P, then it must be rearticulated as, "It is necessary (P2) that it is true (P1) that God exists (P)."
5. If P2 is contingent, P1 is a contingent necessity, possible but also dubious; "God exists" is not necessarily necessary but neither is it necessarily not necessary.
6. If P1 is contingent, P is itself a contingency, possible but also dubious; "God exists" is not necessarily true but neither is it necessarily false.
7. If the proposition, P, "God exists," is rearticulated as an objectively hypothetical proposition, P2, that "It is necessary that it is true that God exists," then P1 is therefore possibly necessary and possibly not necessary.

By the logic of S5:

1. If possibly necessarily p, there is a possible world, w1, where p is necessary.
2. If possibly not necessarily p, there is a possible world, w2, where p is not necessary.
3. If necessarily p, then the negation of p would be a self-contradiction, but if not necessarily p, then the negation of p would not be a self-contradiction.
4. If the negation of a proposition, p, is self-contradictory (or not) in one world, then it is self-contradictory (or not) in all possible worlds.
5. A contingent necessity, p, therefore results, under S5, in the self-contradiction that the negation of p is self-contradictory in all worlds and not self-contradictory in all worlds.

For the case of God's existence.

1. If possibly necessarily "God exists," there is a possible world where God's existence is necessary, where its negation would be self-contradictory.
2. If possibly not necessarily "God exists," there is a possible world where God's existence is not necessary, where its negation would not be self-contradictory.
3. By the logic of S5, God's existence is both necessary and not necessary in all possible worlds.

ANTITHESIS:

1. The assertion of God's existence is a claim of manifest reality in a world, W: "W manifests God as a feature."
2. To be an objectively hypothetical proposition, the assertion of the necessity of God's existence must be rearticulated as a proposition that "It is necessary (P2) that it is true (P1) that W manifests God as a feature (P)."
3. P2 can be postulated for n values of X in place of "God", as a proposition that "It is necessary (P2) that it is true (P1) that W manifests X(1...n) as a feature (P)."
4. By the logic of S5, all objectively hypothetical propositions pertaining to the necessary existence of any X whatsoever result in the self-contradictory assertion that the negation of X is self-contradictory in all worlds and not contradictory in all worlds.
5. By the logic of S5, any propositions pertaining to the necessary existence of any X whatsoever which are not objectively hypothetical -- i.e. which are held to be possible (implicitly not falsifiable) or dubious (implicitly not provable) are simply blank assertions of truth or falsehood.

This is to say that Anselm's and Plantinga's definitions are in and of themselves logically incoherent as objectively hypothetical propositions. They are of a form by which any X -- the Flying Spaghetti Monster, for example -- could be defined as having necessary existence, and then similarly "proven", "disproven" or rendered self-contradictory, depending only on whether we hold the P2 proposition to be possible, dubious or contingent.

SYNTHESIS:

1. If X is a substitute term for W, then P, "W manifests X as a feature," is tautological, as this equates to "W manifests W as a feature".
2. If "W manifests X as a feature" is not tautological, X must be meaningfully distinct from W as a feature that is manifest continuously or discontinously within W.
>> 2a. If X is continuously manifest within W then P, "W manifests X as a feature," is always true at any one point within W. Within W, P is necessary.
>>2b. If X is discontinuously manifest within W then P, "W manifests X as a feature," may be true or false at any one point within W. Within W, P is contingent.
3. "Essential" and "existential" are informal terms which generally relate to the inherent nature and the manifest actuality of a specific object, A. For these to be useful in logical terms they must be defined formally. In common usage, when we speak of X as an essential feature of W we mean that it is continuously manifest within W (W being the A whose essence is being discussed), and when we speak of X as an existential feature of W we mean only that it is currently manifest within W (X being the A whose existence is being discussed). So:
>>3a. A negation of essentiality for X in terms of W is a negation that it is continuously manifest within W. A proposition of essentiality for X in terms of W is a proposition that it is continuously manifest within W.
>>3b. A negation of existentiality for X in terms of W is a proposition that it is not continuously manifest within W. A proposition of existentiality for X in terms of W is a proposition that it is true at one or more points within W.
4. An existential proposition, P, of the form "W manifests X(1...n) as a feature" is a proposition of the manifest actuality of X, that it is manifest as an object. It simply makes a claim that may be true or false for any value of W and any value of X, at any one point within W.
>>4a. Nietszche's "God is dead" is an existential proposition that at this point in our W, it is no longer true to say, "This world manifests God as a feature."
5. An essential proposition, P1, of the form "W manifests P as a feature" is a proposition of the inherent nature of W, that it manifests P as a principle. It makes a meta-propositional claim that "W manifests the proposition, P, that 'W manifests X as a feature', as a feature."
>>5a. Anselm's "God exists" is an essential proposition that for all points in our W, it is true to say, "This world manifests God as a feature."
6. If X is an essential principle of W it is definitional, but it is still limited to W. We can consider an essential principle as a form in the morphology of W (e.g. a constant in physics) which is integral to W, definitional of W, but which, as a definition of W has nothing to say about other possible worlds, W(1...n).
>>6a.Anselm's "God exists" is not definitional of God but definitional of our world, an assertion that our world continuously manifests God as a feature, which has nothing to say about other possible worlds, W(1...n).
7. A necessary truth is an essential principle establishable as a priori by logical deduction, a fundamental form of any morphological system (e.g. a law in mathematics), one where (P2) for all values of W(1...n) (all possible worlds), it is always true that (P1) "W manifests the proposition, P, that 'W manifests X as a feature', as a feature."
>>7a. Anselm's "God necessarily exists" is not definitional of God but definitional of the superset of all possible worlds, an assertion that this essential principle is established by logical deduction, a fundamental form of any morphological system (i.e. a law of logic), one where for all values of W(...n) (all possible worlds), it is always true that "W manifests the proposition, P, that 'W manifests God as a feature', as a feature."
8. We can define any obect Y, such that "Y manifests P2 as a feature", and further define X, such that "X manifests Y as a feature".
>>8a.This is a circularity and it is the specific circularity that underpins the ontological argument, with X equalling "God" and Y equalling "perfection".

Anselm's argument is no more than bootstrapping, taking a premise as proof. We might equally define X as "the Flying Spaghetti Monster" and Y as "the power to do anything with his noodly appendage". Y, we can then argue, requires existence at all points within W in all possible worlds, requires necessary existence. By definition, then, the Flying Spaghetti Monster also necessarily exists. This is the problem with defining anything as having necessary existence.

Your assertion that existence is necessarily predicated of manifestation in reality seems an impoverished view of reality. Do pure mathematical principles exist? How about rules of logic? The Principle of Non-Contradiction? These things have existence only in the mind and, further, exist as eternal principles within the mind. If your view excludes these most essential things, surely it is possible that it excludes God as well.

Do unicorns and gryphons and dragons and exist? These things have existence only in the mind. If your view excludes these entirely frickin imaginary things, surely it is possible that it excludes pirate ninja robots as well. Which is clearly wrong. Or if your view includes these entirely frickin imaginary things, surely it is possible that it includes God on the same principle.

The sort of serious propositions you're talking about, though, are either essential principles -- which is to say, the feature, X, is universally manifest in our world, W -- or they are necessary truths -- which is to say, the feature, X, is universally manifest in all possible worlds. As such they do not and cannot be said to "exist within the mind". To talk in such a manner is utter nonsense, the sort of sophomoric sophistic prattle you get in Philosophy 101 regarding the "existence" of imaginary creatures, as becomes clear if we negate such "existence". If we say "W does not manifest X as a feature," where W is the mind of a schoolchild and X represents Pythagoras's Theorem, we would be denying that an essential principle is continuously manifest in our world (which contains W) were we to directly equate X with the mathematical relationship we call Pythagoras's Theorem. If an idea can not exist in the mind, the idea can hardly be the essential principle "existing within the mind". What may or may not "exist within the mind" of a child with or without an idea of Pythagoras's Theorem is just that -- an idea. Not the essential principle but a linguistic structure of arbitrary symbols in syntactic relationships, the structure of which maps to the morphological form of the essential principle.

At this point we should perhaps bring in the notion of validity and relevance. Because this is the real core issue of the distinction between existential object, essential principle and necessary truth. In fact, as a basic grounding in any of the more morphological disciplines -- logic, maths, theoretical physics -- will tell you, "truth" is actually not a matter of a priori provability but of a posteriori falsifiability. All these disciplines seek to develop morphological models which are rigorously valid -- with no self-contradictions. A necessary truth is actually just a universally valid proposition, which is to say in any morphological system whatsoever its negation would be self-contradictory, invalid. The Principle of Non-Contradiction (as discussed already in the section on chaos and morphogony) is the premise on which this notion of validity rests, but it is only a premise. From this premise we can develop complex morphological systems approaching completeness and consistency (though Godel limits this, saying that no formal system can be both consistent and complete) in which every proposition is valid.

Here's the rub, though: No such system can be proven a priori to be actually relevant in respect of reality.

Instead, we test its relevance by treating it as falsifiable and attempting to disprove it by empirical observation. An entirely valid morphology (such as the model of the solar system where planets, sun and moon all revolve arond the earth) may seem more relevant in many respects than a less intuitive and more complex one (such as the heliocentric model which retained the "perfection" of circular rather than elliptical orbits and was thereby less practically accurate) which later, by observation and further refinement (such as by discarding circular orbits in favour of elliptical ones), is shown to be more relevant. By this process we never prove that a valid morphology is absolutely relevant, only that it is more relevant than one which has been falsified by observation of a fact which contradicts it.

A product of this process is the essential principle as an adopted premise observed as a constant feature (e.g. the speed of light). This feature is not derived within the morphological system as a valid proposition but introduced as a hypothetical required to make that morphological system fit observed fact. Physics is, as I understand, full of such hypothetical essential principles, continually being falsified and superceded along with the models -- as the Newtonian mechanistic model is superceded by the Einsteinan relativistic model. Relativity and Quantum Physics offer conflicting morphologies, both of which are as valid as they can be with the essential principles they take as premises, both of which seem to be relevant, but both of which will likely be falsified and superceded by another morphology (Superstring Theory being one contender).

The point about this is that no matter how valid the morphology, it may well be entirely irrelevant, a map which is perfectly coherent and comprehensive (given that perfectly consistent and complete is out of bounds) but which doesn't actually map to reality. It may be validly constructed in terms of isometric contour lines, compass points in the right relationships, and so on. Most essential principles of topography may be correct -- mountains, towns and cities in the right place. But an error in calculating latitudes which artificially shortens north-south distances or situates an island in entirely the wrong place -- any number of such problems -- might render this map simply not true in the sense of relevance.

This is why we distinguish existential propositions from essential propositions by predicating existence on manifestation in reality. What we are dealing with is not validity but relevance. Even if Anselm's argument were not of a level of circularity that one can hardly help but picture him with his head well and truly stuck up his own arse, even if Plantinga's argument exhibited airtight validity rather than sophistic sleight of hand, there would still be nothing to the morphological structure of their logic that requires it in any way shape or form to be remotely relevant. The perfectly valid map is entirely worthless if it is simply not relevant, if the morphology it represents is not manifest in the actual reality of a world. A definition may be no more than that, a definition of something that is not now, has never been, and never will be instantiated.

I'm sorry if this fine point of the distinction between reality and fantasy seems, to you, an "impoverished view of reality". I suppose that, yes, it does rather sweep away all the apophenic wonders of the paranoid schizophrenic delusion that is God. A delusional worldview where no such distinction is made between existential reality and conceptual fabrication is, of course, so much richer, what with all the angels and demons and the voices in the head telling you the Word of God. But sanity can be fun too. Trust me.

Your oral sex example is likewise characteristic of a misunderstanding of the argument in question. Notable is the neo-Platonic objection that certain of what we call "things" or "acts" are only impoverished versions of actual things or acts. Sins would fall into this category. Thus, to sin is not to do something (properly speaking) but to fail at doing something (insofar as sin is merely a deprivation of something pure and true and perfect). Therefore, God's not sinning cannot be called an inability, but rather evidence of His ability to engage in all actions perfectly (as a result of which, none of his actions would have the deprivation that is sin). Your argument basically boils down to saying that God cant do what is not and therefore is not omnipotent, which is, of course, manifestly absurd. So much for your Pan.

And the Neo-Platonists would make piss-poor object-oriented programmers if they can't distinguish the functional perfection of a specific method with a specific function from some sort of arbitrary hierarchisation of discrete methods with entirely discrete functions. I understand what the Neo-Platonists are trying to do, in not simply listing the absolute prescriptions and proscriptions of crude morality as a set of arbitrary imperatives where actions are required or forbidden. They're trying to deal with the modalities between the must and the must not, the area in which actions are permitted-but-not-approved-of or approved-of-but-not-obligatory, the modalities of could and could not, should and should not. They're trying to organise these contingent imperatives into a hierarchy of events, a set of protocols, such that given a choice between two actions which are both approved-of-but-not-obligatory the action allocated a higher status can be selected.

The main problem with this is that it does not account for the absolute prescriptions and proscriptions, where actions lie outside any such hierarchy. Religious injuctions against eating pork, say, or requirements to cover one's head in a synagogue, for example, are imperatives that cannot be construed as more or less perfect versions of other actions. Not eating pork is not a more perfect version of eating pork. Covering one's head in a synagogue is not a more perfect version of not covering one's head. These are simple boundary rules where a certain action must or must not be carried out in order not to sin. One could attempt to construct higher-level actions of which these are components, saying that what we're talking about is more or less "perfect versions" of eating and more or less "perfect versions" of worship, but what we arrive at is only a high-level abstract action the perfection of which is defined in terms of low-level concrete rules. Which is to say, the "perfect version" of eating is simply that in which none of the complex rules of eating kosher are breached, while the "perfect version" of worships is simply that where all of the complex dogma of devotion are followed.

Perfection, in that sense, becomes purity, as the symbolism of sin-as-stain makes obvious. It is not impoverishment that is the issue but pollution, the miasmatic taint that comes with trangressing the low-level boundary rule. This becomes even clearer when we deconstruct the hierarchisation of sex acts. According to the Neo-Platonic rationalisation, one can only presume that fellatio is an "impoverished" version of penetrative sex, gay sex an "impoverished" version of straight sex, and extra-marital straight sex an "impoverished" version of intra-marital straight sex. But in functional terms fellatio and penetrative sex are entirely discrete methods with discrete goals -- we'll call them SuckCock and Fuck. These can be subordinated to a higher-level method we'll call MakeSweetSweetLove. The "perfection" of MakeSweetSweetLove, in Neo-Platonic terms, is not a matter of being able to execute a function well, achieve a larger goal well, by efficient utilisation of these sub-methods which are themselves so designed as to execute their own sub-functions well, achieve a lesser goal; rather it is defined in terms of the non-execution of certain sub-methods. It is simply that MakeSweetSweetLove is parameterised with injunctions. It must not be executed on a non-spouse. It must not be executed on a person of the same sex. It must not involve execution of SuckCock or FuckAss. When we ask what exactly makes that hierarchically privileged version of sex "perfect", we find that the "perfection" simply deconstructs to a non-functional and arbitrary set of mores, the transgression of which adds the impurity of "sin". For all the Neo-Platonists' rationalisations, sin is defined throughout Christian morality in additive terms, as an impurity which has been introduced and must be removed (specifically, "washed clean in the blood of the Lamb"), not as a deficiency which must be compensated for.

This is very reminiscent of a conversation on this blog a while back which entered into distinctions between types of "crime" in Judaic and Hittite cultures, where Ben Rosenbaum brought up the notion of khate -- sin as flaw, as failing. This led into my own referencing of cheit a sin of error (cognate, it seems to me, with khate), but also avon, a sin of passion, of surrendering to one's impulses, and pesha or mered, a sin which is intended, a deliberate act of malice. We can clearly compare these with the Hittite distinction of haratur (general misdemeanor), hurkel (sexual crime) and shallakardatar (deliberate outrage against the gods).

The Neo-Platonic conception is clearly a post-fact rationalisation of the misdemeanour/error crimes, an attempt to abstract these into a theory of mores as functional ethics. The project is quite laudable in many ways in so far as it seeks to (re)ground mores in ethical protocols based on an implicit function of social integration; the crime is an error, a misdemeanour because it is socially disruptive, the introduction of protocols an attempt to minimise error, to minimise conflict. A view of crime as failure, as error is a judgement that a goal has not been achieved, a method has been executed with the wrong results, that an individual's "programming", so to speak, makes them bad at being a (social) human being because it creates conflict. The result is the sort of conventional morality, in Kohlbergian terms, which encapsulates the whole set of protocols as an abstract and unifying social order but which is defined bottom-up in terms of specific mores (though it will also be redefined top-down under the influence of post-conventional morality's universal ethical principles).

The difficulty with this is that the moral systems it generates incorporate mores which are based purely on sexual and religious taboos -- avon or hurkel and pesha/mered or shallakardatar. These are the sort of crimes we label, in English, as obscene, profane, blasphemous, heretical, abominations, and so on and so forth. It's very clear, when it comes to fellatio (or sodomy or heresy or any number of similar taboo-breaching transgressions), that what we are dealing with is not a failure to commit an act properly (or perfectly), but rather the commission of an act which is, in and of itself, forbidden. This is not a matter of an act conforming to an ideal morphological form, but rather of it transgressing a boundary.

It is these latter forms of mores wherein the construction and reconstruction of God's Law/Will becomes most evident.

Your distinction between mores and ethics and your assertions of construction and reconstruction of the Law/Will seem once again to come from a certain narrowness of perspective on your part. I would suggest you engage in more thorough review of both history and theology. I believe you will find that many of the changes you seem to see in views of the will of God, especially in some of the older religions (Orthodox Christianity, Judaism, Islam and, to some extent, Hinduism) are hardly changes at all but are, in fact, continuous with the beliefs upon which these systems were originally founded. Extensive efforts (intellectual, spiritual and structural) have been undertaken to establish this continuity and preserve it in light of the changing fabric of the human experience and to ignore these efforts in favor of some revisionist notion of religion as changing out of pure expedience is as cynical as it is ignorant. And this is, of course, ignoring the possibility (held by the faiths mentioned above) that God Himself influences the development of these traditions.

The continuity of beliefs is not in dispute. A conventional morality is inherently conservative since the abstracted encapsulation of mores as a "social order" becomes itself the subject of a moral imperative to preserve and promote that order and of a moral injunction against breaking that order. It is taboo to challenge all taboos, forbidden to challenge the legitimacy of the mores. I would suggest, though, that you engage in your own review of history and theology and comparative mythology from a wider perspective, focusing on, for example, the Neolithic roots of these "older" religions, which evidence a continuity going back to Hittite ablution rituals, the Law Code of Hammurabi, the divine legislature of Sumerian society which sociomorphically reflects the unkin or "assemblies" of the earliest of city-states -- in which, most interestingly, the King of Gods is explicitly subject to the Law, impeached and exiled for a crime of rape. I would suggest you look to the transitions between primitively democratic systems of governance based on unkin, en (religio-economic figurehead) and lugal (temporary military leader) and autocratic systems of governance based on the ensi, the fusion of en and lugal as monarchic sovereign. I would suggest you look to the transitions between federation and empire in Sumer and its reflection in the mythology of ownership and control of the me, in which we can see, laid out for us, a story of the gradual usurpation of the Law and its subordination to the Will of the King of Gods (of which Marduk is probably the prime example). I would suggest you look to the Assyrian, Babylonian and Hittite empires for the transitions between King of Gods, God of Gods, and God of Kings, from Enlil to Ilil to El Eliyoun.

Throughout history, yes, a continuity of moral system is visible, in structural terms of conventional morality, in symbolic terms of the sin-as-stain metaphor, and in specific terms of actual prohibitions and dictates, and in all of these systems a conservatism is evinced which clings rigidly to taboos in the face of ethical progress. But there is also a constant revisionism exhibited which is perhaps most obvious in the case of Christianity, going back through Revivalism, Counter-Reformation and Reformation to its very formation. Even just looking at the fractured state of modern Christianity, with a myriad sects each with their own God with his own Law, where on the one hand you have the "God Hates Fags" Westboro Baptists and on the other hand congregations set up by and for queer Christians, it becomes undeniable the extent to which the conception of God is negotiated according to social pressures. The most notable thing about this fracturing is the extent to which it results from attempts to divest the moral orthodoxy of boundary rules which are no longer considered valid. In Christianity we can see this beginning in the Gospels, with Jesus's breaches of the Sabbath and the abandonment of rituals of circumcision or ablution, and carrying through to the present schisming within the Anglican church over the issue of gay marriage, which is fundamentally an argument over the legitimacy of taboos on homosexual acts.

The appeal to divine influence is simply an attempt to have it both ways which undermines any legitimacy the conservatives might have in claiming divine inspiration, and therefore unquestionable authority, for the Law they seek to preserve, as the Law then becomes entirely contingent, subject to a constant process of revision by whoever can persuade enough followers that their alteration is a product of divine influence. Indeed, it strikes at the very heart of morality in characterising it as a process of learning, of maturation, entirely in line with conventional morality's position in a Kohlbergian schema of moral development. In line with religion's own characterisation of its adherents as "children", in fact, it portrays the religious as infantile and immature, incapable of independent ethical judgement but rather "sheep" who must be led by their "shepherd". The grand narrative it constructs is actually one in which the end result is maturity and autonomy, in which conventional mores are superceded by post-conventional ethics, in which we are no longer passive recipients of the divine decrees of an anthropomorphic authority figure, but rather the active executors of the capacity for ethical judgement symbolised in the Eden story as the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

In the end, of course, it is your quaint supposed rebellion against God that truly fails. It fails intellectually to establish a coherent set of objections to religion, and, for that matter, it fails to establish anything more than an impoverished, dogmatic neo-positivist reductionism in its place (under the false assumption that its place is vacant, of course). It leaves its children in a world devoid of metaphysical foundation, leaving them with only appeals to history (such as your own) that are empty of all meaning, and the hollow satisfaction of "liberation" and entry into either nihilism or the atavistic and finally unsatisfying effort to define oneself apart from all context.

These are not objections to religion but deconstructions of the Empire that perpetuates itself within it, and saying that this is not coherent does not make it so. None of your attempts at rebuttal, I believe I've shown, hold water, and, contrary to your claims, the actual philosophy I'm attempting to establish here is, I would argue, richer in its rejection of the anthropomorphic and sociomorphic limitations you project upon the metaphysical, less dogmatic in its rejection of the irrational, taboo-based features of infantile morality, and far from neo-positivist reductionism in its assertion of morphogony as the fundamental condition of chaos from which order is an emergent feature, and in its openness to theories such as memetic entities, quantum interconnectedness, etc., which might indicate an actuality to metaphysics over and above mere metaphor for psychological and cultural processes. Rather, it is the notion of "God" that is impoverished in its crudity, dogmatic in its authoritarianism, and an essentialist reductionism in its assertion of morphology's precedence over morphogony, in the form of an absurdly humanoid Deus Irae as Supreme Being and Prime Cause. Your position is about as limited and limiting as any philosophy could be, and unified by the cohesive pattern-making of the paranoid schizophrenic rather than the coherent reasoning of rational thought and empathic imagination.

So, in the end, your last resort is the appeal to authority for the sake of authority -- for the sake of the security of absolutes, the solace of the sense of certainty those absolutes create, without which, you fear, we cannot live safe and satisfying lives but can only descend into the deep dark void of nihilism. This is not a rational argument, simply your incapacity to face and conquer an existential angst which projects hostility upon indifference, danger upon the darkness, cruelty upon the emptiness of a Cosmos without a Divine Father. This is a child's fear, immature and weak, a lack of faith compensated for with the comforter of God.

Even in your own scriptures this comfort is subverted in the story of the exile from Eden. We live in a conceptual world of dust from which we are born, which we must cultivate ourselves in order to survive, and to which we will return, one day; and we exist in this world naked, and cognizant of that nakedness, with only the knowledge of good and evil, gained from the serpent who has always represented wisdom, as the skill by which we must decide our paths through it.

I suggest you learn to deal with that.

5 Comments:

Anonymous Benjamin Rosenbaum said...

Mmm.

You're really not going to respond to my comment on "THE HALLS OF PENTHEUS -- PART TWO", are you? I'm going to have to come bat my eyelashes over here. Fine.

These are lovely Midrashim as always. But I find myself, once again, in the same position that Ted Chiang takes after *my* rants elsewhere in the blogosphere -- banging on the table shouting "less poetry! more rigor! ye whippersnapper!"

OK, it's true, Ted never bangs on the table.

What you are addressing, and addressing well, is a kind of theoretical laziness or timidity: the one which says "I can't imagine things being other than X, so X must be true (and not-X false)". This shortcut -- this attempt to avoid having to take responsibility for the gulf between ideas and facts -- is indeed at the root of Proofs of the Existence of God, or, for that matter, incontrovertible proofs-by-logic that liberal democracy or state socialism or whatever is the End of History.

But (and I do feel like I keep saying this) not all religious endeavor falls into that category.

Consider that most religious endeavor does not pretend to be a tidy theorem, nor a result of physics, but rather a domain of human endeavor, one perhaps closer to art than science.

Nor can you so simply draw the lines with monotheism (the pefectly naturalized Deus Irae claimed as incontrovertable unchanging revelation) over here and everything else -- Buddhism, Taoism, pantheist paganism, henotheism, shamanism, and a secular humanity with a mildly mystical feeling of love towards the cosmos -- lumped together over there. It will not wash.

The Tao is not equivalent with the Cosmos; otherwise Lao Tze would not spend so much time commenting on activities which are "not the Tao".

The Tao is precisely a figure which emerges from a ground.

So is Shiva, who very much has a holy penis, and so is Kali, who very much has a holy vagina.

Of course God has a penis; of course God is the Greatest Cocksucker (your depiction of Him as such is a marvelous poem of religious devotion); of course God has a vagina, and wings, and an animal head, and no features at all but a howling voice, and is the still small voice at the center of the whirlwind, and NEVER appears personified and ALWAYS appears personified, and is an incomprehensible emptiness about which nothing can be said and who can only be contemplated through negatives. Of course God should be revered, worshipped, defied, killed when you meet him on the road, made love to with a strap-on and cuffs, and (for the Discordians out there) used as toothpaste.

To say "well the idea of God is nonsense because how can He be both infinite and featureless, and yet at the same time be masculine? How can He be all-knowing and yet not know where Adam and Eve are hiding? How can He be the brahman (featureless, indescribable) and also Krishna (with his historicity and his affection for boinking milk-maidens)?" is like standing in an art gallery, pointing at different pictures and saying "look! this one disproves that one!" It's like saying that Dune disproves The Dispossessed, and Foundation and Neuromancer contradict each other, and so at most one of them can be right and probably this whole SF thing is bogus.

It's just mixing metaphors.

I know you didn't start this. You are not importing these terms of debate from nowhere. These are Anselm's terms of debate, and you have every right to demolish Anselm within his terms of debate (and with the benefit of a few more centuries of general knowledge). Good on you.

But it is crooked pool to take Anselm's terms of debate and foist them on all the other projects over at (to continue the analogy from the previous comment) soulforge.net.

It's a very good point, to point out, as I have endeavored to do many times myself, that Will, Law, Creation, etc., are just as much anthropomorphizations as the lingam of Shiva and the helmet of Athena. It's silly to assert that they are therefore fallacies. What they are is imaginative pictures, ways of talking about something that actually doesn't resemble them much at all. The literalism of saying "but does God REALLY have a will?! That's like saying 'He' REALLY has a penis!" is akin to the literalism of saying "but are electrons REALLY particles or REALLY waves?"

They're not either. They're electrons. We just made them up.

Of course, we didn't make them up in a vacuum; we made them up through a rigorous process known as the scientific method, which allows us to construct morphologies on a specific set of premises, analyze them syntactically for fallacies of theory, and discard variants of them with reference to experiment. This is a game which we've found works very well to predict the physical universe. It is, of course, a game: its premises are arbitrary, its experiments limited; it is not designed to come up with any final truth (and the scientific fundamentalists who claim "no more revolutions after us! science is done, there's only tidying up around the edges to do!" are actually a good deal less attractive to me than the religious fundamentalists who claim a final revelation).

But we still MADE UP electrons. They had to pass certain tests to be accepted -- syntactic and empirical. But the chance that we happened upon the precise, perfect description of their physical reality in the first few centuries of really trying? Please.

Similarly Woolf MADE UP Mrs. Dalloway. Mrs. Dalloway is not simply an idea -- to achieve the cultural importance it has, it had to pass certain structural tests to become a novel and certain tests of readership and market and canonization, if you will, to become a famous and beloved novel. There was a nonarbitrary cultural process that came up with Mrs. Dalloway. And thank God, because it's a beautiful book. It gets at something. You know?

And the test for the idea of God is really somewhere between the test for electrons and the test for Mrs. Dalloway.

That we made up all three is obvious.

That all three, human creations born of a process emcompassing a great deal of rigor and thought and labor, are beautiful and interesting... well, I'd argue that they are.

And all three attempt to tell the truth about something hard to tell the truth about.

In this they differ both from two other cultural productions -- lies, like "the dog ate my homework" or "I did not have sex with that woman", and statements of simple fact, like "you left your hat."

These domains are not analogous. Art is not science is not religion. Science, in particular, has the advantage of mechanisms which ensure a great deal of communal agreement about methods of falsifiability, so that statements about particles and waves are MORE like "you left your hat" than, say, Mrs. Dalloway is.

But scientific truths are complex enough that they do need some level of metaphor, so that saying "light is both particle AND a wave" is neither as nonsensical nor as mystical as "you left your hat AND you took it to work" would be.

Nonetheless -- the truths of Art and Religion are falsifiable. If you read Mrs. Dalloway and open your heart to it, at the end your heart will say: yes. Or: no.

They're, alas, only personally, not communally, falsifiable. We have developed mechanisms of persuasive language for trying to form consensus about such claims; and maybe such mechanisms differ only in degree, not kind, from science's mechanisms of consensus-forming persuasive language. But if so, it's a HUGE degree.

Still: there's a there there.

You are smart enough -- and passionate enough -- about religion, and your ventures into positive religious creativity are compelling enough (even if most of the time, on this blog, you appear to think you are engaging only in reductio ad absurdum, when in fact you are engaging in something else entirely -- the Greatest Cocksucker, the defiant dancer in the ruins of Sodom, these religious creations have a not-fully-acknowledged life beyond their use as illustrations in your argument), that I really yearn for you to stop just knocking down the easy targets.

God forbid, I don't want you to stop being a nihilistic, existentialist, atheistic fuck-crazy gadfly firebomb. Far from it. I think that is precisley the religious story you have to tell, and, damn, you tell it well, and Vellum -- as religious art -- is a fine start on your divinely ordained mission.

But I do want you to stop claiming you've discredited monotheism and banished any right-thinking person's belief in God, just because what you've just said would have sent your old Sunday School teacher into apoplexy.

Consider religion, even monotheism, as a patchwork bricolage, a fallible human endeavor, a work in progress. Consider that it might *acknowledge* itself as such. Consider that it *knows* its content is metaphorical.

What then?

11:51 pm  
Blogger Hal Duncan said...

Hey, Ben. I *am* going to respond to your comments on the other blog entry, I promise (and then the comments on this one). Just got sidetracked by the weekend, then writing the repsonse above... and living and stuff.

3:12 am  
Anonymous Eddie Clark said...

Sheesh. Hal, you said what I tried to say to him about eight times as eloquently and in about fifty times as many words. And you didn't resort to saying "I don't give a crap about the metaphysical justifications of my position" (hey, my metaphysics aint so hot, sue me).

And seriously, thanks for this series of posts. Really interesting read (although I have to admit took me a LONG time to wrap my head round bits of it, and I'm not sure I agree with everything you've said, and its interesting to read a forceful repudiation of the faintly ridiculous rejection of the physical/visceral as opposed to the spiritual in Christianity.

On a not completely unrelated note (given how clearly some of these ideas come through in your writing), I'm half way through Ink and very much enjoying it, as I did Vellum. Fun, interesting, and batshit insane. And I still want a chi pistol.

8:27 am  
Anonymous Benjamin Rosenbaum said...

Living and stuff? Who authorized this?

Oh, all right.

**drums fingers on table**

You can put me down for a chi pistol as well.

2:48 pm  
Anonymous Martin McCallion said...

But, but... pirate ninja robots do really exist. Don't they?

9:58 am  

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