The Words of Reverends Seidel

The Being of God

Diesa Seidel
Poughkeepsie, NY
January, 1999

(Diesa Seidel is a freshman student at Marist College in Poughkeepsie, NY. She has a scholarship for playing Division I Basketball.)

There are various ways in which human beings can interpret the "being of God." Most commonly human beings have perceived the being of God as that which is "holy" and "divine". What each individual sees as "holy" and "divine" can have diverse importance depending upon the particular perspective. I believe that there are several basic approaches when thinking about the being of God through natural theology.

Nature alone takes an enormous role in our daily lives. It is filled with immutable laws that control and guide our actions whether we realize it or not. The order and harmony that we witness creates a certain wholesomeness in the universe. Phenomena such as a gorgeous variegated sunset, the vast nightly sky, or the timeless laws of the physical earth and cosmos are just a few of the simplistic sensations that we face every day. With these simple beauties, our minds are captivated and we feel a presence of a transcendental being behind this reality. By experiencing these types of splendors, we trigger our emotions. This is to say that we can experience God with our emotions. The more creation is similar to us, the deeper we feel an attraction to our hearts. Our sense of beauty is more and more stimulated as the object through which we experience beauty is similar to us or reflects our own being. For example, flowers are nice to look at (or smell), but one would experience more "joy" with a cute puppy dog. Yet the ultimate sense of beauty is derived through other human beings. This self-revelation of God through an ultimate object allows us to have the highest experience of beauty. I believe that these experiences are a type of self-communication with God. As nature becomes the mediator for understanding "God", human beings can see God through nature. With this at hand, we can say that God reveals Himself to us through His creation.

The scientist can experience a sense of divinity through the principles and natural laws that are imbedded in nature. Humankind who gains this scientific knowledge can understand God through the intellect. The intellect then gains knowledge about reality and in this way can open the door to understanding the divine. This fascination with the system and unity of laws brings to question the explanation of a First Cause. This is to say that some being must have been the cause of the world in which we live in today. The teleological and cosmological arguments are two arguments which are commonly brought up in discussion. Both argue that God must exist due to the assumption at the world is a contingent world, and is therefore caused by something outside of space and time (see Questions That Matter: An Invitation to Philosophy, ed. L. Miller, (c)1998, McGraw-Hill, NY, p. 227).

St. Thomas Aquinas used these arguments in his famed proofs for God known as the "Five Ways" (motion, nature of efficient cause, possibility and necessity, gradation to be found in things, and governance of the world). All of St. Thomas’ "Five Ways" begins in an "a posteriori" way, meaning that through sense experience the existence of God can be proven. St. Thomas believed that no matter how long the universe had existed, it is dependent on something absolute (and not dependent) for its existence.

William Paley, an English clergyman, also argued for God’s existence on the basis of design in the cosmos (teleological argument). he is most famous for his watch analogy: The world is to God as a watch is to a watchmaker (Miller, p. 239). Much of Paley’s thoughts were contrary to Charles Darwin’s evolutionary theories. The Paleyan view sees the world being full of particular instances of design. A common example is the human eye: this is an evidence for the direct creating and designing activity of God (Miller, p. 245).

Tennant took the same analogy of the human eye, except he argued that the human eye developed through natural causes such as evolution. Nonetheless, the universe in its entirety is an astonishing proof for the making and designing movement of God (Miller, p. 245).

We can see that through the conclusions of multiple philosophers, Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution has influenced how God can be perceived. Miller said, the science of evolution was the primary source of the wider teleology as well as for the main motive to the recovery of the closely connected doctrine of the innate (Miller, p. 243).

On another perspective, human beings have a will set on goodness. The more we can understand God as a being of goodness, the more we are inclined to expand on our own will for goodness. By applying our will for goodness, we can understand God as a being to love goodness. If we observe God as a benevolent creator, then His (Her) actions and power all must be rooted and structured toward righteous manners.

So far we have discussed the being of God through human emotions, intellect and the will to obtain goodness as well as through the inquiry of a First Cause. The next question brings to thought the essence of divinity and holiness. What do we encounter in our lives that qualify to receive such a prestigious title?

If we understand God to be revealed to us (to a certain degree) at the highest form in human beings, then we can further comprehend why we describe God with anthropomorphic characteristics. In revealed theology we may read about how God "walked" through the garden, or how the "hand of God" was helping the poor. Another way in which God is given anthropomorphic characteristics is through ideal types of human experiences. If we say, "we are loving," then we can conclude, "God is perfectly loving." If "we are patient," then "God is perfectly patient," and so forth. With these imageries being directed towards a transcendental being, we come to say that it has a greater value and significance than what we commonly find in our material reality. Through this we can state that divinity is within transcendental beings. To experience the divine deals with immanence of God. Being co-creators allows us to partake in divine attributes (we become good like God is good, holy like God is holy). The dwelling of God in His (Her) creation then allows us to actually experience the divine in our lives.

Following divinity, human beings have an interest in what is "holy". Generally what is "divine" can usually fit the category for what is "holy". Oftentimes in our lives we are overcome by feelings of dejection due to sufferings or setbacks we have experienced. However, we sense that there must be some "unbroken reality" in which we would not encounter these dilemmas. This reality is in the position of God ("unbroken reality"), who represents and holds the wholeness and original ideal of creation. We can perceive this quality to be "holy". Since God is beyond our physical temporal reality He (She) is known to be uncreated reality. This standing gives God a divine and holy nature (in the eyes of created beings).

Mysticism is one of the most intense as well as engaging (non-rational) ways of knowing God. Aldous Huxley wrote about mysticism in his book The Doors of Perception. He spoke about the loss of interest in space and time (the physical world), and centered his points on "the infinite value and meaningfulness of naked existence," "a world of visionary beauty," and the "All" (Miller, p. 266). Mystics describe their experiences as indescribable; thus it is questionable to define the limits as to what exactly is mysticism. We may conclude however that mysticism is the pursuit of a transcendent, unitive experience with the absolute reality (beyond space and time). Mysticism is also commonly characterized with the following terms: transcendent, ineffable, noetic, ecstatic and unitive. Classical mysticism focuses its means not in heightening the consciousness, but more or less in clearing the consciousness of all sense impressions and ideas, and through this method the soul can attain a reality of an entirely changed and higher nature (Miller, p. 267).

When we reflect upon mysticism, it is vital to bring up Plato. In general, mystics are not Platonists; however, they do hold certain aspects of Platonistic thought to help them perceive reality on a scale. The object is to reject one’s physical incentives and thus to become united with true being. By doing so, one is changing from evil to good. Plato’s Allegory of the Cave can be an example of a mystical rising (from living amidst a false reality in the cave, to escaping and finding truth—darkness to light—see Miller, p. 267).

The Scottish philosopher David Hume is what we call a radical empiricist. Empiricism is the view which emphasizes experience as the source of knowledge (Miller, p. 168). Through our own personal experiences we can derive knowledge which is certain and whole. Hume’s understanding of knowledge and truth (or for what exists) is claimed on the basis of perceptions. These perceptions are then divided into impressions (clear sensations of experience) and ideas (wan copies of impressions) which provide for material thinking. His main argument is that we have no ideas unless they are from impressions. Hume’s radical thoughts are so due to the fact that he allowed no rationalistic slides or shortcuts. Our knowledge is merely what is disclosed in our sense experience. Hume’s skeptical systematic view about causality argues that we have no basis for thinking about anything beyond our own experiences. The idea of causality is based on causes and effects joined together continuously right before our eyes (Miller, p. 249). This brings up the question that if everything has to have a cause, then what caused God? Obviously this question would lead us into circles with no answer (since our ideas are confined to experiences). Both Hume and Kant made the same reproach: "The concept of causality cannot be legitimately extended beyond the objects of possible sense experience, and therefore cannot be extended to God" (Miller, p. 249). Hume charges the Cosmological and Teleological Arguments to be an unjustified concept of the causality of God.

Kant, contrary to Hume, did believe that "every event must have a cause." He saw this a natural way in which our minds grasped reality. Like Hume, Kant saw that causality could have no possible bearing on anything outside our sense experience. This statement suggests that Kant left no room for a superior transcendental being (God), as the origin of the universe. Kant also rejected the Cosmological Argument by saying that it is an "illusion" (Miller, p. 252).

Hume declared that causality is limited to the sensible world because we know it only through sense experience, and thus have no proof that there is a transcendental being (God). Kant’s perception is similar as he states that causality is limited to the sensible world because it is "constitutive" of sense experience—it is part of what experience means. This also leaves no grounds for a supernatural God.

In conclusion, the being of God can be perceived in many ways. One can approach this field on the basis of mysticism, empiricism or reasoning. The skeptical causality views of Kant and Hume have rigid boundaries which limit the possibilities for a universal God. Despite their disbelief, they have not come to affirm that this transcendental God does not exist.

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