Having been thoroughly terrified after watching the Sunset Limited based on Cormac McCarthy’s novel, I thought I should try to actually do a little philosophy in order to (at least?) believe in God again. I do it here in an attempt to keep myself honest in the company of those that do believe. If this doesn’t make much sense, please keep in mind my lingering view of philosophy, and consider this an apologia and a confession.
Some thoughts to set the stage:
“I am not a religious man but I cannot help seeing every problem from a religious point of view”. — Ludwig Wittgenstein, noted philosopher.
“But theology is the function of the Church. The church confesses God as it talks about God… But in so doing it recognizes and takes up as an active Church the further human task of criticizing and revising its speech about God” — Karl Barth, noted theologian, Church Dogmatics, 1.1, p. 3.
“Actually I should like to say that in this case too the words you utter or what you think as you utter them are not what matters, so much as the difference they make at various points in your life. How do I know that two people mean the same when each says he believes in God? And just the same goes for belief in the Trinity. A theology which insists on the use of certain particular words and phrases, and outlaws others, does not make anything clearer (Karl Barth). It gesticulates with words, as one might say, because it wants to say something and does not know how to express it. Practice gives the words their sense”– Wittgenstein, Culture and Value, p. 85e).
“The whole modern conception of the world is founded on the illusion that the so-called laws of nature are the explanations of natural phenomena.
Thus people today stop at the laws of nature, treating them as something inviolable, just as God and Fate were treated in past ages. And in fact both were right and both wrong; though the view of the ancients is clearer insofar as they have an acknowledged terminus, while the modern system tries to make it look as if everything were explained.”
— Wittgenstein, Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, 6.371-2
On method: For the sake of simplicity I’m going try to use Wittgenstein’s language, rather than, e.g., Karl Barth’s.
To understand how (or why) you should listen to Wittgenstein, it may help to keep in mind these things about his life: Wittgenstein volunteered for World War I, even though, by law, he could have avoided being drafted. He served with valor that was highly decorated more than once. Before the war, was was one of the wealthiest men in Europe: he gave most all of his money away during his life and worked as a grade school teacher. Three of his brothers committed suicide. While at war he discovered Tolstoy’s The Gospel in Brief, carried it with him, and used it to evangelize anyone in distress. He completed his only completed philosophical work during the war. I guess what I am saying is that Wittgenstein was extremely sincere about philosophy and sincere in trying to keep it simple. He was rigorously simple in how he lived life. Want more ? Wittgenstein’s definitive biography and New York Times review of that biography. A good theological introduction to Wittgenstein. For those that don’t read anymore, you might check this out.
“The world is all that is the case: The world is the totality of facts, not of things; The world is determined by the facts, and by their being all the facts.” –Tractatus, 1 – 1.1.
For some, simple facts can only be expressed by art. For some, simple facts are clear and distinct ideas. But logic seems to tell me that if you really believe that simplicity is actually a fact at all, there is only one question. What is the simple fact?
This philosophy is about answering this question with reason. Philosophy is catch-as-catch-can — there are really no rules, just reason. But what the most brilliant philosophers have shown is that simply because there are no rules does not mean that there no simple facts, it only means that the rules are not the simple facts, they just point to them.
For some, the simple fact is: I am. For some people the simple fact is: the world. For some the simple fact is: fate. For some, the simple fact is: whatever works. For some people the simple fact is: humanity. For some the simple fact is: nothing. For some the simple fact is: nature
For some the simple fact is: God. For some the simple fact is also: the Holy Spirit. For some the simple fact is also: the word of god. The best definition I can think of for Christian is this: Christians are those for whom the simple fact is also Jesus Christ. The best definition I can give for Evangelical Christian is: those who believe that the simple fact is: in Jesus Christ alone is life.
For a long time the simple fact was: love. It think that love has to be a lot more simple than most anybody thinks, but love is not even as simple as fairness.
For me, now, the simple fact is: God!
I would make the definition of “Christian” and “evangelical Christian” the same.
What’s the simple fact for a Mormon? For a Mormon Christian?
Good question. Mormonism seems very complicated to me still.
Using these terms, I would say within Mormonism, most say that the simple fact is God and Christ and the Holy Ghost, but after confessing that, they immediately start talking about God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit as things rather than facts. They actually insist that they are things. (And as Plato proved, a thing is necessarily a complicated fact.)
To believing Mormons I would say the simple fact is something like: God touched me within Mormonism.
But it would be hard to come up with a simple definition of Mormonism, because it is not as sophisticated as Nicene Christianity.
To those whom the simple fact is much simpler, Mormonism always tends to complicate things. Mormonism has no creeds, only psychological forces that act like creeds, something like law.
When I was a Mormon I would have said that the simple fact is:
Jesus was a man to whom the simple fact was: I am.
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was with God in the beginning. 3 Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. 4 In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome[a] it.
6 There was a man sent from God whose name was John. 7 He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all might believe. 8 He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light.
9 The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world. 10 He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. 11 He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. 12 Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— 13 children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.
14 The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.
God is the One who justifies the ungodly and declares them righteous.
So much for our big self-justification project.
‘Righteous, for Jesus’ sake’, I needed to add.
Can’t argue with Tim today.
Can it be that simple?
Wow, I just clicked on that movie and ended up watching the whole thing. That was fantastic. I wish I’d known about it when it came out and neo-atheism was getting in vogue.
Regarding simple facts, I am not sure I follow what you are saying here:
This is the soft spot in the argument. I suppose what I mean is this, in order to communicate, we have to agree on simple facts. If all the differences were made known, everything will be absolutely unique. But treating things as absolutely unique prevents any communication. So, human language depends on simplifying reality, categorizing, describing. In order to do that you have to trust in the simplification of reality into language. Thus, all knowledge is an oversimplification.
I don’t think it is disputable that knowledge actually matters, i.e. the fact is, there is knowledge. Therefore, working simplicity is the hallmark of knowledge. (see Occam’s razor) But why simplicity at all? It seems that only simple facts makes knowledge possible. So, what is the simple fact that allows the world to be. It must be the deepest mystery, i.e. God.
Because of the reality that knowledge matters in the world, to say that there is no god is to say that there is no mystery. That all has been explained. This, of course, must be bullshit.
The “world” is a shared vision that we communicate with music, touch, and language it can be nothing more than that. Science cannot show that it is anything more than that, because all science can say must be put in language.
So, it makes sense that the world is the case because of the simple fact of God.
I get it now. Your purpose in quoting Wittgenstein about not knowing if men mean the same thing by the word “God” is clearer to me now, too, thanks.
I think the insight of the private language argument is critical in religion.
In the name of Allah,the Most Compassionate the Most Merciful.
By the mount
And [by] a Book inscribed
In parchment spread open
And [by] the frequented House
And [by] the heaven raised high
And [by] the sea filled [with fire],
Indeed, the punishment of your Lord will occur.
Of it there is no preventer.
On the Day the heaven will sway with circular motion
And the mountains will pass on, departing –
Then woe, that Day, to the deniers,
Who are in [empty] discourse amusing themselves.
The Day they are thrust toward the fire of Hell with a [violent] thrust, [its angels will say],
“This is the Fire which you used to deny.Then is this magic, or do you not see? [Enter to] burn therein; then be patient or impatient – it is all the same for you. You are only being recompensed [for] what you used to do.”
Indeed, the righteous will be in gardens and pleasure,
Enjoying what their Lord has given them, and their Lord protected them from the punishment of Hellfire.
[They will be told], “Eat and drink in satisfaction for what you used to do.”
They will be reclining on thrones lined up, and We will marry them to fair women with large, [beautiful] eyes.
And those who believed and whose descendants followed them in faith – We will join with them their descendants, and We will not deprive them of anything of their deeds. Every person, for what he earned, is retained.
And We will provide them with fruit and meat from whatever they desire.
They will exchange with one another a cup [drink] wherein [results] no ill speech or commission of sin.
There will circulate among them [servant] boys [especially] for them, as if they were pearls well-protected.
And they will approach one another, inquiring of each other.
They will say, “Indeed, we were previously among our people fearful [of displeasing Allah].
So Allah conferred favor upon us and protected us from the punishment of the Scorching Fire.
Indeed, we used to supplicate Him before. Indeed, it is He who is the Beneficent, the Merciful.”
So remind [O Muhammad], for you are not, by the favor of your Lord, a soothsayer or a madman.
Or do they say [of you], “A poet for whom we await a misfortune of time?”
Say, “Wait, for indeed I am, with you, among the waiters.”
Or do their minds command them to [say] this, or are they a transgressing people?
Or do they say, “He has made it up”? Rather, they do not believe.
Then let them produce a statement like it, if they should be truthful.
Or were they created by nothing, or were they the creators [of themselves]?
Or did they create the heavens and the earth? Rather, they are not certain.
Or have they the depositories [containing the provision] of your Lord? Or are they the controllers [of them]?
Or have they a stairway [into the heaven] upon which they listen? Then let their listener produce a clear authority.
Or has He daughters while you have sons?
Or do you, [O Muhammad], ask of them a payment, so they are by debt burdened down?
Or have they [knowledge of] the unseen, so they write [it] down?
Or do they intend a plan? But those who disbelieve – they are the object of a plan.
Or have they a deity other than Allah? Exalted is Allah above whatever they associate with Him.
And if they were to see a fragment from the sky falling, they would say, “[It is merely] clouds heaped up.”
So leave them until they meet their Day in which they will be struck insensible –
The Day their plan will not avail them at all, nor will they be helped.
And indeed, for those who have wronged is a punishment before that, but most of them do not know.
And be patient, [O Muhammad], for the decision of your Lord, for indeed, you are in Our eyes. And exalt [Allah] with praise of your Lord when you arise.
And in a part of the night exalt Him and after [the setting of] the stars.