Tuesday, September 17, 2019

They have to decide whether they are prepared to assume, in their lives and in the history of mankind and the world, that there is ultimately no basis, no support and no meaning - or . . .

A third difficulty is the concept of God as the "perfector" of the world and human beings.  One thing is clear.  There is not an unequivocal scientific description or projection of the future of humanity and the universe.  And I would add that none of the biblical narratives and images about the end of the world have the authority of scientific statements.  We have to understand them as testimonies of faith about the Whither of the universe which, again, science can neither confirm nor refute;  at the end of the world is God.  Just as he is the alpha, so he is the omega.  We can therefore dispense with any attempt to harmonize biblical statements and various scientific theories about the beginning and the end.  The biblical testimony understands the end on an essentially different level - as the completion of God's activity in his creation.  That means what is at the wold's end, as at its beginning is not the Nothingness which explains nothing, but God.  And this end must not simply be equated with a cosmic catastrophe and the sudden end of human history.  What is old, transient, imperfect, and evil will indeed be ended'  but this end must be understood as ultimate completion and fulfillment.  

I'm sure some might notice that Hans Kung didn't take refuge in the, perhaps, coincidental matching of the first lines in Genesis and the idea of the Big Bang, he specifically distanced the Biblical narratives from science, pointing out the fact that those who created them had a very different agenda than producing a "proof" of God.  Though it is certain that that argument can be persuasive, as is the argument for there being something to the universe instead of the nothingness that materialist nihilism, which is inevitably a monistic ideology, entails if it is taken to its logical conclusions.  I would have said "scientistic materialist nihilism" except such nihilism must, in its assertion of "the Nothingness which explains nothing", negate the substance of human minds and thoughts, including its scientific substance.  Though such scientistic materialists either are unwilling to take it to its logical conclusion or they adopt the language of double-speak in which they assert both of those mutually exclusionary monisms.  Just as any such scientistic materialist who makes any moral distinction, which science, unadmittedly, depends on - as they all inevitably do - are also stepping out of their asserted monist system to do that.  You have to trust that scientists are telling the truth about observations and data you can't witness, yourself, as just one example of that.  And believing that the truth is good and lies are bad, for another.  Though, so often, as can be heard in Republican scientific experts, on TV and before congress, many scientists will give themselves a sort of truth-free zone when it pays enough or suit their personal preferences.   I am a lot more skeptical of science as it actually exists in the real world than Han Kung is. 

I'm also sure that Catholics of my generation and many others would be surprised that Kung doesn't present the end of the world, the "end of time" with the good people going to heaven and the bad ones going to hell or being obliterated.  Kung's concept of the end as not that division but an ultimate completion to the universe, including us, in God.  In his other books he goes into that in far more detail and relating that completion with the Resurrection, not to the kind of life we have now, but more than the life we know.  It isn't exactly a modern idea but has been noted as a reasonable interpretation since, to my knowledge, since the early Cappadocians, as I recall, Gregory of Nyssa attributes such ideas to Paul and, no doubt, Paul would point to the Gospel and, being by his own confession a Pharisee, to the Law.

The next sentences present those alternatives in their plainest and starkest terms. 

The "yes" to God is neither a cloudy emotion nor a rational proof.  Human beings are faced with an alternative.  They have to decide whether they are prepared to assume, in their lives and in the history of mankind and the world, that there is ultimately no basis, no support and no meaning - or that everything has after all a fundamental basis, a support and a meaning that, to put it more concretely, there is a creator, a guide and a fulfiller.  We can mistrust the basis, support and meaning of reality and say "no" to it.  Or we can trust, and say "yes" to a God.  The "yes" to God is therefore a matter of trust - though the trust is in itself a quite reasonable trust.  There is no rational proof for such an act of trust, but there are certainly many reasonable grounds.  For only a trusting "yes" to a fundamental basis, support, and meaning can answer the question about the foundation, support and meaning of the world, and the ultimate meaning of our own lives. Only a trusting "yes" can give human beings ultimate certainty, security - and in fact a genuine system of essential values.  In this light, only the "yes" is fundamentally reasonable, not the "no," which leads to ultimate meaninglessness. 

I have come to the conclusion that this has to be true, based not on a belief that non-believers are depraved and guaranteed to be immoral.  I've certainly seen too many professed believers who are those to come to the conclusion that belief is an automatic guarantee against such amoral depravity. 

I have to conclude that materialism, atheism, scientism are more likely to produce those ends based in the many statements of moral and even intellectual meaninglessness asserted by materialists, by atheists, even, most illogically of all, by atheist philosophers, scientists and mathematicians* - who are all in the business of asserting meaning and the morality of reporting those (even in some cases, asserting the morality of being honest in that reporting) but who, when it comes down to an assertion of the ultimate meaning of their materialism as it impinges on a conscious consideration of human minds, will declare the universe is meaningless and even that consciousness is anything from meaningless to an illusion of "folk psychology".

That testimony goes back to pretty well the start of the literature of formal consideration and assertions of materialism and atheism. When atheists from the very early Carvarka school of Indian philosophy, through the classical authors of the Mediterranean, the Renaissance, Classical, Romantic and Modern period, both in philosophy and natural philosophy assert various levels of such nihilism to their belief, I'm going to have to conclude that they are sincere in their assertion, even among those such as Dawkins and Krauss who practice a high level of double-talk and those like Dennett and the Churchlands and Steven Weinberg who are more rigorous, though certainly not free from double talking or double acting on it.  It's the more pedestrian and angry assertions by popular level atheists who disclaim that as an essential component of their ideology, when taken to its conclusions, who are anything from insincere to pathetically naive.

The beginning of this paragraph in its presentation of a decision of choosing "yes" or "no" points to something I concluded over the past several years that belief is a choice, it isn't something that happens without our actual choice to believe, even if that act is not identified as such at the time.  I think it's also true of all things we arbitrarily separate from belief and consider knowledge, based in choices of things we chose to believe, often from our earliest years and will not give up to accommodate beliefs that are in violation of them.    

I'll let Kung have the last word for now, asserting that, contrary to the typical secularist-atheist-pop culture view of religion and Christianity, it provides a real basis of rational thought, of valuing the truth, of rejecting a view of life as a a merely irrational, meaningless, nihilistic ooze in a swamp of pleasurable sensation.  

Truly we do not need - as may people fear - to be irrational when we want to orientate ourselves in faith toward God, the Christian God.  On the contrary, by believing in God the understanding really "sees reason"!  And the God of the philosophers, who appeals more to some people, is by no means abolished in the process;  in the God of Jews and Christians he is what German calls, in a word with a wonderful triple sense, aufgehboben - he is affirmed, negated, and transcended in one;  affirmed, relavitized and infinitely elevated.  This God, I believe, is what we can call "the more divine God."  He is the God before whom modern men and women, who have become so critical, need not renounce their reason.  He is the God before whom they can again "pray and sacrifice, fall on their knees in awe, make music and dance,"  to take the words with which Heidegger once formulated his hope.   And so my first, fundamental answer to the question about essential Christian values is this;  I know what I can rely on and will rely on, because I believe in this living God.

Well, I do have to point out that more troubling for my purposes is what those assertions do to the effective promotion of equality and treating people and other living beings well, which all legitimate politics has as their goal.  I have come rather late to the idea that maybe actually making that real in real effective action, in real life, individually and in society depends on choosing to really believe the argument that supports it here.  Starting with the choice to believe in God.

*   Not to mention its use by authors, script writers, etc.   While typing this out I couldn't help but think of the scene Douglas Adams has in which the master of ceremonies of The Restaurant at the End of the Universe lovingly and enthusiastically revels in the futility of everything.   I can't remember which of the endless regurgitations of that radio play went wrong I'm hearing, though it's either the original radio play or the first TV film of it because I didn't need to do it anymore after that.  Nihilism gets old faster. 

Which reminds me of a passage from the minor modern poet Archibald MacLeish ("nothing, nothing, nothing at all") in which he criticized the French existentialists for the nihilism that they relished and from which they derived a rather useless ersatz morality . . . though I don't think he went that far in the passage as I have just now.   I can't find it right now but if I do I will post on it.

1 comment:

  1. "I'm also sure that Catholics of my generation and many others would be surprised that Kung doesn't present the end of the world, the "end of time" with the good people going to heaven and the bad ones going to hell or being obliterated."

    And all shall be well, and all things shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well.

    --Julian of Norwich, 14th century.

    It's an old idea. The more modern and muddled ones, especially those tied to fundamentalist Christianity and "sinners in the hands of an angry God," are, I would argue, distortions of a sounder and older understanding.