Frank Visser, CLIMBING THE STAIRWAY TO HEAVEN: Reflections on Ken Wilber's “The Religion of Tomorrow”
INTEGRAL WORLD: EXPLORING THEORIES OF EVERYTHING
An independent forum for a critical discussion of the integral philosophy of Ken Wilber
Publication dates of essays (month/year) can be found under "Essays".
Be Scofield is a queer/trans writer, activist, founder of decolonizingyoga.com, Dr. King scholar and web/interaction/graphic designer who specializes in helping progressive and alternative health platforms shine. Her work has appeared in Tikkun Magazine, Huffington Post and Alternet and she has a chapter in the book 21st Century Yoga: Culture, Politics & Practice. Be holds a B.A. in Psychology/Philosophy from Warren Wilson College (2006), has done graduate coursework in Postcolonial Anthropology and holds a Master of Divinity from Starr King School for the Ministry in the Unitarian Universalist tradition with emphases in women's studies in religion, sacred dance, African-American religion and Buddhism. Be specializes in the radical teachings of Dr. King and has taught a graduate course called "Dr. King and Empire: How MLK Jr. Resisted War, Capitalism and Christian Fundamentalism."
God is Not Only Great
A Response to Henry Augustine
What type of God is Henry speaking of? Is he a theist? Deist? Pantheist? Panentheist?
I'm not sure which is more surprising to me; that Henry Augustine wrote an article which contained in the title "the only feasible proof of God" or that he claimed to have done this in 400 words. If all it were to take is someone to assert a few propositions and statements about the nature and existence of God to prove God real I'm quite certain this would have been accomplished by this day and age. The ontological argument has failed to convince people of God's existence ever since it was coined by Anselm in the 1070's. Merging it with vague and meaningless integral terms such as Kosmos and holonic connection doesn't change the nature of the argument one bit.
Thus, the new atheists, Hitchens, Harris and Dawkins will not be packing their bags or retiring as a result of Henry Augustine's overly simplistic and myopic attempt to prove God. What is most interesting is that Augustine has written quite articulately about philosophy, theology and God in previous articles. Why then such a careless attempt to prove the existence of God without defining terms or explaining the nuances of the arguments? He neither references his other work nor states that his line of reasoning is premised on a more complex and thorough analysis. Thus, he leaves himself wide open to criticism as he uses terms like omnipotence and being without any definition. To the average reader unfamiliar with his work it is impossible to know what he means by an all-positive, all-perfect omnipotent God as he provides no definition in this recent article.
To begin with the title of this article in and of itself is quite loaded. To say that one has discovered the only feasible proof for God is arrogant – even with a last name like Augustine. Whether liberal or conservative, theist or pantheist theologians don’t use such empty appeals to authority. There are, however, certainly people like Ken Wilber for example who believe in themselves so much that their mere assertion of a statement must be accepted as doctrine. Perhaps Wilber’s style has influenced Augustine. And yes, traditional theology often starts with assertions as well but it generally uses various arguments about design, creation, morality…etc. to posit God’s existence. But in all of my days of studying theology, spirituality and philosophy I’ve never heard anyone whether liberal or conservative write with such confidence to claim they have discovered “the only feasible proof of God.” Augustine has some special revealed knowledge that he is now going to impart to the rest of the world. But in the end his brief revelation only leads to more questions than answers.
Augustine asserts that God is
"The Being than Which nothing greater can exist."
What does he mean by being? Is this a personal or impersonal being? Is it transcendent or immanent? Does this being have a will and purpose? Is being synonymous with merely what exists?
The problem with positing God as something “than which nothing greater can exist” is that this has different meanings for different people. The greatest God for Osama Bin Laden is different than the greatest God for Jerry Falwell. Whether we like it or not the term greater is still a loaded human word that is only as good as the person applying it to God. For Falwell no greater God would exist other than the one who caused Hurricane Katrina because of the lesbians, ACLU and the feminists. For Bin Laden no greater God would exist than the one who wages war against the infidels. The word "greater" is still a word that means certain things to certain people. There is no universal accepted definition of greater. There is no one accepted definition of what the greatest God would constitute. Therefore the foundation of the argument is flawed.
He then goes on to say,
"Now agree that by virtue of Its very definition, God as this All-Positive or All-Perfect Being (which includes consciousness, omnipotence, Omnipresence, Omniscience, Omnibenevolence) would have to exist for all possible realities..."
Henry is wrong to conclude that Gods definition as the greatest being necessarily means all-positive, all-perfect or any of the characteristics that he mentioned. Perhaps the greatest God is one that is both positive and negative, creative and destructive, tragic and ecstatic...etc. Perhaps being labeled as only positive and perfect is limiting and constraining. Perhaps a greater God is one who tricks humans into believing that they can explain God with their language. Or the greatest God is actually only evil.
When you look at the history of human existence it wouldn’t be difficult to conclude that God enjoys suffering. The black theologian William Jones asks, “Is God a White Racist?” What if we don’t understand the cosmic significance of slavery and it is part of God’s plan? This is not my position but my point is to illustrate that God doesn’t necessarily need to be reduced to all-positive or all-perfect. Thus, when Augustine says all-positive does he mean that the negative is excluded? Is he saying that God is not to be found in evil or destruction? How is God omnipresent then? Or if God is to be found in the all-negative why doesn't Henry say so? If God is only all-positive and all-perfect Henry needs to explain what is not God. At what point does something stop being God and start being something else? Perhaps love and beauty are ways to speak of the greatness of God. But how about the ideas like and indifference? At what point on the spectrum between love and like does something stop being God? Are things that are less than perfect God? What is beauty? On the scale between perfection and imperfection or beauty and ugliness where is the God line drawn?
The fact that human primates can assert that the greatest being can exist doesn't imply that it does. We have the capacity to create fantastic imaginary and mythical images, but this ability doesn't mean that any of them are real. He claims "the mere possibility of a God" means that God therefore exists. Why? For many people when they hear God it is equivalent to Santa Clause. Thus does the possibility of Santa Clause actually existing mean that he must exist? If we live in a world which "cannot be restricted by any means" how could Santa Clause not exist? He claims that "all possible existences and dualities...are contained in this pure potentiality/possibility" and "therefore - in some form of existence or "parallel Universe" - God exists.” Doesn't the possibility of Santa Clause then mean we should conclude that he exists? Augustine wouldn't want to restrict the pure potentiality of the universe would he? Why is God limited to our human conceptions like the greatest being? Why does Augustine even assume that God could be conveyed via words like greatness? Perhaps God is nothingness. But this doesn’t imply a value judgment that God is great. In the least it would be necessary to say that God is great and not great at the same time.
What type of God is Henry speaking of? Is he a theist? Deist? Pantheist? Panentheist?
It is careless to claim to have the only proof of God but not take the time to clarify what he means by God. Is he a theist arguing for the existence of a God that can and does intervene in human affairs? Is God personal, separate and knowable? Does God answer prayer? Or perhaps Henry is a deist. Does he believe in the watchmaker God popular amongst Jefferson and other liberal enlightenment thinkers? This God set the laws of the universe in motion but sits back watching like a spectator. Maybe Henry is a pantheist, believing that God is everything. But then again of course it is incorrect to speak of God with only the terms positive or perfect because this is merely one portion of God. To be accurate Henry would have to describe God as perfect/imperfect, positive/negative, good/evil, creative/destructive, the being than which nothing worse or greater could be conceived...etc. But there is also a chance that Henry is a panentheist (which from his previous writings seems the closest). This was pioneered from the philosophy Alfred North Whitehead and taken up by numerous thinkers in the process theology tradition such as Charles Hartshorne, Paul Tillich, Henry Nelson Weiman and John Cobb among many others. Process theology is an attempt to reconcile modern physics with God. It views God as an unfolding creative process both in and above everything but not limited to the present reality.
From his other writing I don’t think that Augustine means omnipotence in the traditional sense of an intervening all-powerful God. He simply means the power and creative force of the universe. But there are those who believe God could intervene with this power but does not. Does Augustine believe this? Why doesn’t he qualify the word omnipotence? And if he believes in any way shape or form that God can physically intervene in the world he must explain how God is still benevolent when making a conscious choice to not stop suffering. I would argue that God cannot be good if God has the power to intervene to stop a young child from being raped and murdered but makes a conscious decision not to. And furthermore I could describe a greater God, one which does intervene to stop suffering. So therefore an omnipotent and omnibenevolent God either must intervene to be considered good or be both good and bad. If someone admits that God is bad for allowing suffering when having the power to intervene then they are logically consistent. Otherwise, because good is a human term based on our shared understanding of ethics and morals we would have to totally warp the definition of what we mean by good. If it would be good for a 5 year old to not be raped and murdered then it would be bad for God to not stop this. Or of course Augustine could believe that God has no power to save a child dying from cancer.
Augustine uses circular logic when he first sets the terms of what God is and then draws conclusions from his own assertion. He even says, "Now agree by the virtue of Its very definition..." But he is merely claiming a first cause and that first cause is God. Thus unless you accept his premise of a first cause i.e. God, then you won't accept the rest of his arguments about God's nature and character. And as I've already stated even if you do accept his premise of God as a first cause it doesn't prove his specific claims that God is all-positive, all-perfect or omnipotent (whatever he means by this).
For example, let me flip around his thinking. Let "Satan" in this case, be "The Being which nothing worse can exist," or simply the "Ultimate." Now agree by its very definition, Satan as this All-Negative or All-Imperfect being would have to exist for all possible realities, all parallel Universes, the entire Kosmos as a whole, as opposed to just one out of an infinite plurality, since Satan existing for only one possible reality is lesser than the Satan existing for all realities/ the kosmos and is therefore not the True Satan. Does this logic mean that yes Satan is real and exists? Absolutely not. This is the same logic that he applies to God. One would have to accept Satan as a first cause in their thinking in order to follow such thinking. If you believe in God before reading Augustine’s piece then you will after. But if you don’t believe in God it is unlikely that his assertions will convince you. Just like my assertion is unlikely to convince you of Satan's existence.
“From the latter Ultimate Principle, we can logically deduce everything that is holonically connected and, theoretically, we can understand the entire celestial Kosmic blueprints or “DNA structure” through systematic intuitive rationalism.”
What does he mean by holonically connected? What are "celestial Kosmic blueprints?" What is he referring to that would be outside of the understanding of physics, quantum or otherwise?
More questions remain for Henry. What is the difference between the universe and God? Is God interchangeable with reality, the universe or existence? Is God merely the sum of the natural laws of the universe? What does he mean by "The Kosmos?"
I am curious if this is his thesis just dressed up in fancy jargon: “The Universe exists and it has a creative potential within it. I call this God.” If so then the creative potential must not be limited to statements like all-positive or all-perfect. These are meaningless statements and human constructions. But in the least he would have to concede that God is all-evil and all-good. Otherwise he needs to describe where God stops and non-God starts. And furthermore one would not need to prove the existence of the universe as it is self-evident.
I could go on and on. Augustine opens himself up for serious criticism by his lack of definition of terms and his circular logic.
If you want an intellectually stimulating and theologically relevent attempt to speak about God I highly recommend you check out this issue of Tikkun Magazine called "God and the Twenty First Century." I won't describe the contents other than to say that it contains thoughts from today’s leading progressive theologians representing feminist, panentheist, liberation, Jewish, Christian...etc. positions. They all struggle with the limitations and possibilities of God talk.