Monday, April 18, 2005

Proving God's Existence and the issue of theology and philosophy

This post at Prosblogion got me thinking about the subject. As a theologian, I particularly dislike the enterprise of proving God's existence. But as a philosophically inclined theologian, I am drawn to these discussion.

Speaking about the Christian God and proving God's existence are two different animals. Speaking about the Christian God is theology (including mysticism) and proving God's existence in philosophy and the fact is that there is not continuum between the two. Aquinas seems to have missed that vital fact.

A significant benefit of proofs for God's existence is that they offer philosophically acceptable arguments to defend belief in God. At least, that's what I think. And I say "belief in God" and not, "defend the fact of God's existence." These proofs argue that it is rational to maintain belief in God. But they do not prove that God does in fact exist. For instance, proofs for God's existence can argue for the unthinkability of a world without God or a world without the idea of God. But ultimately, none of these proofs can lead to faith. Rather, they touch boundaries of where our experience and concepts breakdown and they create philosophical space for the type of God-talk that is an extension of our human experience. On the other hand, they can be actually harmful to faith because even if they conclude the presence of divinty they restrict it to boundaries incompatible with the Christian faith.

Theology starts and ends within faith. An unfortunate fact of history is that theology has been hamstrung by philosophy. We've tended to adopt philosophical categories and baptize them, add a few twists and voila, pass it of as theological argumentation. As a result, we often find that the God of philosophy becomes the God of faith. In fact, in a flawed strain pervasive in traditional Catholic theology, the basic difference between the philosophical God and the Christian God is that as a matter of infallible doctrine, the Trinity is not the pervue of philosophy. Otherwise, philosophy is thought to have gotten it right.

Basically put, philosophy does not give us categories in which God is manifest, rather it gives us more refined language tools to understand and express our experience of God. The benefit of philosophy is on the subjective side and not on the "objective" side. The categories of God's manifestion come from the history of God's encounters and engagement with his people.

This creates a unique tension, because we have to use philosophical language (subjectively) to describe religious, historical, and experiential categories that defy philosophical categorization (because of their specificity and lack of universality). What that means is that we basically cannot get it right, theologically. The best we can do is try.

All philosophical talk of God necessarily falls short of its intended goal. Theological talk of God falls short to the extent or degree that it is dependent on philosophy. That leaves us with the purer forms of God-talk, "theo-logos" such as poetry, mysticism, and prayer, which touch the heart of the manifestation of God and rise to realms of purity that philosophical language never could.

The problem this creates though, is that for those who do not resonate with the mysticism or poetry that captures the manifestation of God, or those chronologically or spatially removed from the experience of the mystics, theological language, dependent on philosophical categories, is the fail-safe vehicle for delivering these truths. It means that so much then is lost in translation when we move from the pure forms of theology, i.e, prayer, mysticism, etc, to the less pure forms of theology, i.e, philosophical theology.

This makes our goal then to strive to attain the experience of the mystics or those behind holy texs and expressions, so that we can individually elevate, within each one of us, the dead theological language we find ourselves saddled with.


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