Circle or Line under Most Beautiful Absolute

Remove from me then, Lord, the sadness that the love of self might give, but create in me a sadness in conformity with thine

Month: April, 2012

Self-refutation of Darwinism

Benedict XVI, Thomism, and Liberal Culture

Tracey Rowland:

Is liberalism a positive and “liberating” intellectual development within Western history that can be both baptized and integrated into the life of the Church?

Or, is it a destructive cultural and political force that thwarts the desire for transcendence?

Theologian Tracey Rowland believes the latter description of liberalism — an intellectual tradition derivative of the epistemology and moral, political and economic philosophy of the various European Enlightenments in the 18th century — better understands the phenomenon, and believes Benedict XVI shares at least some elements of this diagnosis. The encounter with liberal culture, she says, may be one of the central themes of his papacy.

Rowland is dean and permanent fellow of the John Paul II Institute for Marriage and Family — Melbourne and author of “Culture and the Thomist Tradition: After Vatican II” (Routledge).

She shared with ZENIT why two schools of Thomism have differing visions of how the Church should respond to, and interact with, liberal institutions and culture, without being subsumed by them.

Part 1 of this interview appeared Sunday.

Q: You have said that the major intellectual and theological battle within the Church is between the “Augustinian Thomists” and the “Whig Thomists.” What does this mean?

Rowland: First, let me define “Whig.”

The expression “Whig Thomist” was coined by Michael Novak to describe his intellectual project. Originally the word “Whig” came from the Scottish word “Whiggamor” for a cattle driver — though some sources say cattle thief and others say horse thief. It was initially applied to Scottish Presbyterians, mostly from the west coast of Scotland, who opposed the Stuart cause in the wars of the 17th century.

Their counterparts, the Tories — a word derived from the Gaelic for “outlaw” — consisted of some aristocrats, large landowners and agrarian peasants. They were mercantilist in economic policy, royalist in politics and tended to support the succession of James II [1633-1701].

Over time the term was used to refer to a faction in British politics. Although there was never anything like a strong doctrinal definition of the term, as a sociological generalization it can be said that the Whigs were the heirs of the Scottish Enlightenment, which emphasized economic and political liberty, or an emerging philosophy known as liberalism, which was often fused with a Puritan form of Protestantism.

In the 19th century Lord Acton popularized the idea that Thomas Aquinas was the first Whig, that is, the first proponent of a modern, post-Enlightenment concept of politics. Thus “Whig Thomism” refers to an intellectual project that seeks to locate the genesis of the liberal tradition in the thought of Thomas Aquinas and to synthesize elements of the Liberal tradition, particularly those provided by the Scottish Enlightenment, to classical Thomism.

The project of reading Aquinas as the first Whig or first Liberal has been criticized by a number of scholars.

For example, Robert Kraynak, in his work “Christian Faith and Modern Democracy,” has written that “though intriguing, Acton’s interpretation is misleading because Thomas defends power sharing and political participation, not as a right of the people to parliamentary consent nor as a means for protecting personal rights and liberties, but as the prudent application of natural law whose ends are best realized in a stable constitutional order dedicated to peace, virtue and Christian piety. This is medieval corporatism applied within the [Augustinian] doctrine of the Two Cities, rather than the first stirring of modern liberty.”

Those who may loosely be classified as “Augustinian Thomists” follow such a Kraynak-style reading of Aquinas, rather than an Actonian.

What I argued in my book “Culture and the Thomist Tradition: After Vatican II” is that there is a division between those who think that the Thomist tradition should accommodate itself to the culture of modernity, particularly the economic dimensions of this culture — the self-described “Whig Thomists” — and those who believe that modernity and its liberal tradition are really toxic to the flourishing of the faith.

Those who take the latter position do not want to supplement the Thomist tradition with doses of Enlightenment values. They are very broadly described as Augustinian Thomists for the want of a better label because, in a manner consistent with St. Augustine’s idea of the two cities, they reject the claim of the liberal tradition to be neutral toward competing perspectives of the good and competing theological claims.

While the Whigs argue that liberalism is the logical outgrowth of the classical-theistic synthesis, the Augustinian Thomists argue that the liberal tradition represents its mutation and heretical reconstruction, and they tend to agree with Samuel Johnson that the devil — not Thomas Aquinas — was the first Whig.

There are thus two different readings of modernity and with that, two different readings of how the Church should engage the contemporary world. While the Whigs want the Church to accommodate the culture of modernity, the Augustinians favor a much more critical stance.

Another point I made in my book is that those who think that the liberal tradition is avant-garde are about 40 years behind the times. Liberalism ceased being the hegemonic intellectual tradition in the Western world in 1968. At least since then the intellectual battlefront has been three-cornered.

First of all there are theists — Catholics, Muslims, Jews, Protestants, etc.; secondly, there are believers in Enlightenment-style rationality, that is, different varieties of liberals who sever reason from faith; and thirdly, there are the postmoderns who think that the Enlightenment was a very oppressive social experiment and that all versions of rationality are in some way related to theological or mythological presuppositions, although they do not accept that we can use our reason to judge between those competing theological presuppositions.

On some fronts Catholic scholars may do better to work with the postmoderns than those who insist on a strict severance of faith and reason, or at least not nail their colors irrevocably to a liberal mast.

The point at which the Whigs and Augustinians come into conflict is over the issue of the moral quality of what is called the “culture of America,” which is not of course confined to the geographical boundaries of the United States. It is, as Alasdair MacIntyre says, a theoretical construct.

The Whigs want to baptize the current international economic order, while the Augustinians take a more critical approach, arguing that there are economic practices characteristic of this order that cannot be squared with the social teaching of the Church.

Moreover, the Augustinians are more likely to point out that most people do not sit down and develop a worldview for themselves from hours of philosophical and theological reflection. They tacitly pick up values and ideas from the institutions in which they work.

The Augustinians argue that there are aspects of the culture of modernity that act as barriers to the flourishing of Christian practice and belief, and unless the culture is changed, no amount of intellectual gymnastics on the part of the Church’s scholars will be of help to those 1 billion Catholics who have to make a living within the world.

In other words, if one has to be a saint not to be morally compromised by the culture in which one works, then there is something wrong with that culture.

I don’t think that this is the major intellectual battlefront within the Church, but it is an important one.

Q: In what sense is Pope Benedict an Augustinian? In what sense is he a Thomist?

Rowland: I would say that Pope Benedict is a Thomist insofar as he would probably agree with most of what St. Thomas wrote. However, he is not a Thomist in the sense of appealing to the authority of St. Thomas in his defense of the faith, focusing his scholarly endeavors upon the works of Aquinas or in the sense of using a scholastic methodology.

Rather, Pope Benedict is one of the many members of his generation who, while not disagreeing with the content of Thomist thought, believed that the scholastic presentation of the faith doesn’t exactly set souls on fire unless they happen to be a particular type of soul with a passion for intellectual disputation. He has said that “scholasticism has its greatness, but everything is impersonal.”

In contrast, with Augustine “the passionate, suffering, questioning man is always right there, and you can identify with him.”

Benedict has also been strongly influenced by the Augustinian principle that faith is the door to understanding. He has said that he believes that a kind of memory, of recollection of God, is etched in man, though it needs to be awakened.

His Augustinian pedigree is also manifest in his interest in the transcendental of beauty and his understanding of the catechetical importance of language and symbols and the relationship between matters of form and substance.

So much of the liturgical mess of the last 30 years has been brought about by philistines who want to dumb down the language of the liturgy, replace symbolic gestures by lay people explaining what Father is doing — as if we are all uncatechized Martians — and gutting liturgical language of its poetic dimensions.

Even secular linguistic philosophers argue that form and substance are inseparable — that if we change language, we also in some sense change the way that people think. Pope Benedict is onto this, along with Francis Cardinal George of Chicago, and liturgical scholars such Aidan Nichols, OP, Monsignor Peter Elliott, Stratford Caldecott of the Center for Faith and Culture in Oxford, and Alcuin Reid, OSB.

Q: How does Pope Benedict XVI’s “Augustinian Thomism” shape the way he views the phenomenon of liberal democracy?

Rowland: From an Augustinian point of view, the biggest problem with liberalism is its claim to be theologically neutral or indifferent toward different religious traditions. Quite a long list of scholars are coming to the view that the liberal claim to theological neutrality is bogus. This list includes Anglicans associated with the radical orthodoxy circle and scholars with a more Baptist-oriented theological background.

It is not a position limited to so-called conservative or ultra-montanist Catholics. Indeed most postmoderns would agree with this criticism of the liberal tradition. Pope Benedict has made it clear that Catholics should not be persuaded by the liberal rhetoric to believe that in order to be good citizens they must bifurcate themselves into public and private halves.

He has observed that secularism is itself an ideology, a kind of religious position that presents itself as the only voice of rationality. He sees these views as posing a challenge to the dominant political cultures of contemporary liberal democracies.

To say this, however, is not to say that he is against constitutionalism. He is not saying that the Church should run the state. He would probably agree with the saying of Martin Luther King that the Church is neither the master of the state, nor the servant of the state, but the conscience of the state.

Q: Pope Benedict XVI has been described as a “man of culture,” and suspect of theologians who do not have an appreciation for great art, music or beauty. What role does culture play in theology and political life?

Rowland: One of my favorite Ratzinger quotations is that “A theologian who does not love art, poetry, music and nature can be dangerous!” It comes in a close second behind his observation that in some ways he prefers the Italian spirit to the German because the saints were all people with imagination — not functionaries of apparatuses.

In other words, beware the person with no interest in literature, music, art, poetry and nature but who has a big interest in keeping the machinery operating. I haven’t heard what he has said to the Vatican bureaucrats who reportedly wanted to ban his cats from the papal apartments, but they sound dangerous, too — the bureaucrats, that is.

But to answer your question about culture and theology, the territory of the theology of culture is very broad. It ranges from the morality of different institutional and social practices, including practices within political institutions, to questions about the propriety of different types of music for liturgical use and questions about the role of language in the process of evangelization.

For example, should we adopt the language of hostile intellectual traditions when presenting the Church’s teachings? And what principles should be applied when discerning which of the “spoils of the Egyptians” to plunder?

Pope Benedict has observed that the Church is its own cultural subject for the faithful, which is a further indication that he is not inclined to follow the pastoral strategy of accommodating the Church’s culture to whatever happens to be fashionable in the contemporary Western world.

In a recent address to the Knights of Columbus, Cardinal Stafford said that every world religion is trembling before the advances of American pop culture. I think that Pope Benedict would agree with this assessment and that he understands that the Church, in a sense, needs to be the mother of culture. She needs to put life back into culture, so that people can be edified and experience self-transcendence.

Q: By what standards is the health of a culture measured according to Pope Benedict?

Rowland: In his book “The Spirit of the Liturgy,” Benedict made the point that the sole purpose — not the major purpose, but the sole purpose — for the liberation of the Jews from Pharaoh was that God wanted them to be able to worship according to his prescriptions.

Thus, I would say that for Benedict the most important question about any culture is, where does liturgy stand within this culture? Is it the highest good? Are we dealing with a liturgical city? Or are we dealing with a culture which is driven by economic factors? Who are the gods of this culture? What is the dominant vision of the human person? How are the sick and vulnerable treated?

Concretely, it is of little benefit to Christians to live in a culture where any kind of liturgical expression is permitted, if, like the Jews under Pharaoh, they are being forced to work like slaves just to provide shelter and food for their families and have no time for prayer and leisure, that is, no time for God, in lives dominated by the quest for physical survival.

In the same work, Benedict said that law and ethics do not hold together when they are not anchored in the liturgical center and inspired by it.

He also made the point that every society has its cults; even the decidedly atheistic, materialistic systems create their own forms of cult. He comes very close to the position of scholars such as Catherine Pickstock and William T. Cavanaugh who have argued that in contemporary Western society the market has replaced the Eucharist as our object of adoration.

This is not to say that he is against the idea of a market per se, but my judgment is that he is against making market competition the underlying, infrastructural dynamic of a culture.

Karl Polanyi expressed the position well when he wrote that a “natural order” is one in which the economy is embedded in social relations, rather than one in which social relations are embedded in the economic system, making society a mere adjunct to the market.

By making the test that of the place and nature of liturgy within a culture Benedict is also taking a very Augustinian position. Augustine would say that what we adore is a sign of what we love, and what we love is a declaration of our membership card of one of the two cities — the city of God or the city of Man.

Alvin Lucier – I Am Sitting In A Room

Milton Friedman on Libertarianism and Humility

A discussion about the limits of nonviolence bumping up against morality. Nice way of thinking about this issue. Which is why I like Friedman – but re: Rothbard the jury is out.

“These Assholes, They Always Get Away”

An initial thought:

1) Miami Herald: Police volunteer program coordinator Wendy Dorival said she met Zimmerman in September at a community neighborhood watch presentation. “I said, ‘If it’s someone you don’t recognize, call us. We’ll figure it out,’ ” Dorival said. “‘Observe from a safe location.’ There’s even a slide about not being vigilante police. I don’t know how many more times I can repeat it.”

But:

2) 2011 Florida Statutes 776.012 Use of force in defense of person. A person … is justified in the use of deadly force and does not have a duty to retreat if: (1) He or she reasonably believes that such force is necessary to prevent imminent death or great bodily harm to himself or herself or another or to prevent the imminent commission of a forcible felony; or (2) Under those circumstances permitted pursuant to s. 776.013.

Since Dorival’s remark re: training volunteers is presumably not unique to Zimmerman, there appears to be, if not in theory then in practice, a conceptual dissonance, or gap, in between “neighborhood watch” and “stand your ground” – regardless of the facts of this particular case. It is not necessary even to believe that “vigilante” or “second degree murder” exists in that gap for it to be a deadly gap. “Negligent homicide” conceivably exists there. Who administers that gap? Who ensures that reconciliation between 1) and 2) is properly done?

I am wondering if that dissonance plays into the more obvious one in this particular case:

1) FL State Attorney Norm Wolfinger, determined that there was insufficient evidence for a conviction of George Zimmerman on the charge of manslaughter.

But:

2) FL State Attorney Angela Corey, appointed by FL Governor Rick Scott, determined that there was sufficient evidence for a conviction of George Zimmerman on the more serious charge of second degree murder, and issued a criminal indictment without a grand jury.

So it is a fact that disagreement existed within the Office of the FL State Attorney as to whether or not to prosecute George Zimmerman. This disagreement appears to center in part on the affidavit of detective Chris Serino. But I wonder – does it also arise as a result of the gap in between “neighborhood watch” and “stand your ground”? If so, there’s a confusion that doesn’t just pertain to the Zimmerman case but to the very nature of how the law can be enforced in communities.

In any case, now we move on to the circus.

It’ll come down to inconsistencies in Zimmerman’s account of events – if this ever gets past the judge to a jury, which I personally doubt. I don’t think you’re ever going to see a second degree murder trial here. Why? Because the FL stand your ground law establishes an immunity, not a defense. All Zimmerman has to do is to file a motion and then establish stand your ground immunity – by a mere preponderance of the evidence.

Dershowitz thinks that the affidavit of probable cause itself is “irresponsible And unethical” which is extremely strong language – simply because it doesn’t even establish probable cause prima facie.

Zimmerman walks. And then – well, I wouldn’t like to be living in Sanford, Florida when that particular sh*t hits the fan.

And then we have this genius walking into the mix:

“If I Had a Son, He’d Look Like Trayvon”. What is that supposed to mean, precisely? I sympathize with you because your son was black, and I am black? If Obama was white and Trayvon was white, what does that statement signify then?

In any case, in addition to the State Attorney case, we now have a Florida Department of Law Enforcement investigation and a federal Justice Department/FBI investigation. Fun times.

Lama Marut – Always Reliable

Raymond M. Smullyan – Is God a Taoist?

Mortal:
And therefore, O God, I pray thee, if thou hast one ounce of mercy for this thy suffering creature, absolve me of having to have free will!

God:
You reject the greatest gift I have given thee?

Mortal:
How can you call that which was forced on me a gift? I have free will, but not of my own choice. I have never freely chosen to have free will. I have to have free will, whether I like it or not!

God:
Why would you wish not to have free will?

Mortal:
Because free will means moral responsibility, and moral responsibility is more than I can bear!

God:
Why do you find moral responsibility so unbearable?

Mortal:
Why? I honestly can’t analyze why; all I know is that I do.

God:
All right, in that case suppose I absolve you from all moral responsibility but leave you still with free will. Will this be satisfactory?

Mortal (after a pause):
No, I am afraid not.

God:
Ah, just as I thought! So moral responsibility is not the only aspect of free will to which you object. What else about free will is bothering you?

Mortal:
With free will I am capable of sinning, and I don’t want to sin!

God:
If you don’t want to sin, then why do you?

Mortal:
Good God! I don’t know why I sin, I just do! Evil temptations come along, and try as I can, I cannot resist them.

God:
If it is really true that you cannot resist them, then you are not sinning of your own free will and hence (at least according to me) not sinning at all.

Mortal:
No, no! I keep feeling that if only I tried harder I could avoid sinning. I understand that the will is infinite. If one wholeheartedly wills not to sin, then one won’t.

God:
Well now, you should know. Do you try as hard as you can to avoid sinning or don’t you?

Mortal:
I honestly don’t know! At the time, I feel I am trying as hard as I can, but in retrospect, I am worried that maybe I didn’t!

God:
So in other words, you don’t really know whether or not you have been sinning. So the possibility is open that you haven’t been sinning at all!

Mortal:
Of course this possibility is open, but maybe I have been sinning, and this thought is what so frightens me!

God:
Why does the thought of your sinning frighten you?

Mortal:
I don’t know why! For one thing, you do have a reputation for meting out rather gruesome punishments in the afterlife!

God:
Oh, that’s what’s bothering you! Why didn’t you say so in the first place instead of all this peripheral talk about free will and responsibility? Why didn’t you simply request me not to punish you for any of your sins?

Mortal:
I think I am realistic enough to know that you would hardly grant such a request!

God:
You don’t say! You have a realistic knowledge of what requests I will grant, eh? Well, I’ll tell you what I’m going to do! I will grant you a very, very special dispensation to sin as much as you like, and I give you my divine word of honor that I will never punish you for it in the least. Agreed?

Mortal (in great terror):
No, no, don’t do that!

God:
Why not? Don’t you trust my divine word?

Mortal:
Of course I do! But don’t you see, I don’t want to sin! I have an utter abhorrence of sinning, quite apart from any punishments it may entail.

God:
In that case, I’ll go you one better. I’ll remove your abhorrence of sinning. Here is a magic pill! Just swallow it, and you will lose all abhorrence of sinning. You will joyfully and merrily sin away, you will have no regrets, no abhorrence and I still promise you will never be punished by me, or yourself, or by any source whatever. You will be blissful for all eternity. So here is the pill!

Mortal:
No, no!

God:
Are you not being irrational? I am even removing your abhorrence of sin, which is your last obstacle.

Mortal:
I still won’t take it!

God:
Why not?

Mortal:
I believe that the pill will indeed remove my future abhorrence for sin, but my present abhorrence is enough to prevent me from being willing to take it.

God:
I command you to take it!

Mortal:
I refuse!

God:
What, you refuse of your own free will?

Mortal:
Yes!

God:
So it seems that your free will comes in pretty handy, doesn’t it?

Mortal:
I don’t understand!

God:
Are you not glad now that you have the free will to refuse such a ghastly offer? How would you like it if I forced you to take this pill, whether you wanted it or not?

Mortal:
No, no! Please don’t!

God:
Of course I won’t; I’m just trying to illustrate a point. All right, let me put it this way. Instead of forcing you to take the pill, suppose I grant your original prayer of removing your free will — but with the understanding that the moment you are no longer free, then you will take the pill.

Mortal:
Once my will is gone, how could I possibly choose to take the pill?

God:
I did not say you would choose it; I merely said you would take it. You would act, let us say, according to purely deterministic laws which are such that you would as a matter of fact take it.

Mortal:
I still refuse.

God:
So you refuse my offer to remove your free will. This is rather different from your original prayer, isn’t it?

Mortal:
Now I see what you are up to. Your argument is ingenious, but I’m not sure it is really correct. There are some points we will have to go over again.

God:
Certainly.

Mortal:
There are two things you said which seem contradictory to me. First you said that one cannot sin unless one does so of one’s own free will. But then you said you would give me a pill which would deprive me of my own free will, and then I could sin as much as I liked. But if I no longer had free will, then, according to your first statement, how could I be capable of sinning?

God:
You are confusing two separate parts of our conversation. I never said the pill would deprive you of your free will, but only that it would remove your abhorrence of sinning.

Mortal:
I’m afraid I’m a bit confused.

God:
All right, then let us make a fresh start. Suppose I agree to remove your free will, but with the understanding that you will then commit an enormous number of acts which you now regard as sinful. Technically speaking, you will not then be sinning since you will not be doing these acts of your own free will. And these acts will carry no moral responsibility, nor moral culpability, nor any punishment whatsoever. Nevertheless, these acts will all be of the type which you presently regard as sinful; they will all have this quality which you presently feel as abhorrent, but your abhorrence will disappear; so you will not then feel abhorrence toward the acts.

Mortal:
No, but I have present abhorrence toward the acts, and this present abhorrence is sufficient to prevent me from accepting your proposal.

God:
Hm! So let me get this absolutely straight. I take it you no longer wish me to remove your free will.

Mortal (reluctantly):
No, I guess not.

God:
All right, I agree not to. But I am still not exactly clear as to why you now no longer wish to be rid of your free will. Please tell me again.

Mortal:
Because, as you have told me, without free will I would sin even more than I do now.

God:
But I have already told you that without free will you cannot sin.

Mortal:
But if I choose now to be rid of free will, then all my subsequent evil actions will be sins, not of the future, but of the present moment in which I choose not to have free will.

God:
Sounds like you are pretty badly trapped, doesn’t it?

Mortal:
Of course I am trapped! You have placed me in a hideous double bind! Now whatever I do is wrong. If I retain free will, I will continue to sin, and if I abandon free will (with your help, of course) I will now be sinning in so doing.

God:
But by the same token, you place me in a double bind. I am willing to leave you free will or remove it as you choose, but neither alternative satisfies you. I wish to help you, but it seems I cannot.

Mortal:
True!

God:
But since it is not my fault, why are you still angry with me?

Mortal:
For having placed me in such a horrible predicament in first place!

God:
But, according to you, there is nothing satisfactory I could have done.

Mortal:
You mean there is nothing satisfactory you can now do, that does not mean that there is nothing you could have done.

God:
Why? What could I have done?

Mortal:
Obviously you should never have given me free will in the first place. Now that you have given it to me, it is too late — anything I do will be bad. But you should never have given it to me in the first place.

God:
Oh, that’s it! Why would it have been better had I never given it to you?

Mortal:
Because then I never would have been capable of sinning at all.

God:
Well, I’m always glad to learn from my mistakes.

Mortal:
What!

God:
I know, that sounds sort of self-blasphemous, doesn’t it? It almost involves a logical paradox! On the one hand, as you have been taught, it is morally wrong for any sentient being to claim that I am capable of making mistakes. On the other hand, I have the right to do anything. But I am also a sentient being. So the question is, Do, I or do I not have the right to claim that I am capable of making mistakes?

Mortal:
That is a bad joke! One of your premises is simply false. I have not been taught that it is wrong for any sentient being to doubt your omniscience, but only for a mortal to doubt it. But since you are not mortal, then you are obviously free from this injunction.

God:
Good, so you realize this on a rational level. Nevertheless, you did appear shocked when I said, “I am always glad to learn from my mistakes.”

Mortal:
Of course I was shocked. I was shocked not by your self-blasphemy (as you jokingly called it), not by the fact that you had no right to say it, but just by the fact that you did say it, since I have been taught that as a matter of fact you don’t make mistakes. So I was amazed that you claimed that it is possible for you to make mistakes.

God:
I have not claimed that it is possible. All I am saying is that if I make mistakes, I will be happy to learn from them. But this says nothing about whether the if has or ever can be realized.

Mortal:
Let’s please stop quibbling about this point. Do you or do you not admit it was a mistake to have given me free will?

God:
Well now, this is precisely what I propose we should investigate. Let me review your present predicament. You don’t want to have free will because with free will you can sin, and you don’t want to sin. (Though I still find this puzzling; in a way you must want to sin, or else you wouldn’t. But let this pass for now.) On the other hand, if you agreed to give up free will, then you would now be responsible for the acts of the future. Ergo, I should never have given you free will in the first place.

Mortal:
Exactly!

God:
I understand exactly how you feel. Many mortals — even some theologians — have complained that I have been unfair in that it was I, not they, who decided that they should have free will, and then I hold them responsible for their actions. In other words, they feel that they are expected to live up to a contract with me which they never agreed to in the first place.

Mortal:
Exactly!

God:
As I said, I understand the feeling perfectly. And I can appreciate the justice of the complaint. But the complaint arises only from an unrealistic understanding of the true issues involved. I am about to enlighten you as to what these are, and I think the results will surprise you! But instead of telling you outright, I shall continue to use the Socratic method.

To repeat, you regret that I ever gave you free will. I claim that when you see the true ramifications you will no longer have this regret. To prove my point, I’ll tell you what I’m going to do. I am about to create a new universe — a new space-time continuum. In this new universe will be born a mortal just like you — for all practical purposes, we might say that you will be reborn. Now, I can give this new mortal — this new you — free will or not. What would you like me to do?

Mortal (in great relief):
Oh, please! Spare him from having to have free will!

God:
All right, I’ll do as you say. But you do realize that this new you without free will, will commit all sorts of horrible acts.

Mortal:
But they will not be sins since he will have no free will.

God:
Whether you call them sins or not, the fact remains that they will be horrible acts in the sense that they will cause great pain to many sentient beings.

Mortal (after a pause):
Good God, you have trapped me again! Always the same game! If I now give you the go-ahead to create this new creature with no free will who will nevertheless commit atrocious acts, then true enough he will not be sinning, but I again will be the sinner to sanction this.

God:
In that case, I’ll go you one better! Here, I have already decided whether to create this new you with free will or not. Now, I am writing my decision on this piece of paper and I won’t show it to you until later. But my decision is now made and is absolutely irrevocable. There is nothing you can possibly do to alter it; you have no responsibility in the matter. Now, what I wish to know is this: Which way do you hope I have decided? Remember now, the responsibility for the decision falls entirely on my shoulders, not yours. So you can tell me perfectly honestly and without any fear, which way do you hope I have decided?

Mortal (after a very long pause):
I hope you have decided to give him free will.

God:
Most interesting! I have removed your last obstacle! If I do not give him free will, then no sin is to be imputed to anybody. So why do you hope I will give him free will?

Mortal:
Because sin or no sin, the important point is that if you do not give him free will, then (at least according to what you have said) he will go around hurting people, and I don’t want to see people hurt.

GOD (with an infinite sigh of relief):
At last! At last you see the real point!

Mortal:
What point is that?

God:
That sinning is not the real issue! The important thing is that people as well as other sentient beings don’t get hurt!

Mortal:
You sound like a utilitarian!

God:
I am a utilitarian!

Mortal:
What!

God:
Whats or no whats, I am a utilitarian. Not a unitarian, mind you, but a utilitarian.

Mortal:
I just can’t believe it!

God:
Yes, I know, your religious training has taught you otherwise. You have probably thought of me more like a Kantian than a utilitarian, but your training was simply wrong.

Mortal:
You leave me speechless!

God:
I leave you speechless, do I! Well, that is perhaps not too bad a thing — you have a tendency to speak too much as it is. Seriously, though, why do you think I ever did give you free will in the first place?

Mortal:
Why did you? I never have thought much about why you did; all I have been arguing for is that you shouldn’t have! But why did you? I guess all I can think of is the standard religious explanation: Without free will, one is not capable of meriting either salvation or damnation. So without free will, we could not earn the right to eternal life.

God:
Most interesting! I have eternal life; do you think I have ever done anything to merit it?

Mortal:
Of course not! With you it is different. You are already so good and perfect (at least allegedly) that it is not necessary for you to merit eternal life.

God:
Really now? That puts me in a rather enviable position, doesn’t it?

Mortal:
I don’t think I understand you.

God:
Here I am eternally blissful without ever having to suffer or make sacrifices or struggle against evil temptations or anything like that. Without any of that type of “merit”, I enjoy blissful eternal existence. By contrast, you poor mortals have to sweat and suffer and have all sorts of horrible conflicts about morality, and all for what? You don’t even know whether I really exist or not, or if there really is any afterlife, or if there is, where you come into the picture. No matter how much you try to placate me by being “good,” you never have any real assurance that your “best” is good enough for me, and hence you have no real security in obtaining salvation. Just think of it! I already have the equivalent of “salvation” — and have never had to go through this infinitely lugubrious process of earning it. Don’t you ever envy me for this?

Mortal:
But it is blasphemous to envy you!

God:
Oh come off it! You’re not now talking to your Sunday school teacher, you are talking to me. Blasphemous or not, the important question is not whether you have the right to be envious of me but whether you are. Are you?

Mortal:
Of course I am!

God:
Good! Under your present world view, you sure should be most envious of me. But I think with a more realistic world view, you no longer will be. So you really have swallowed the idea which has been taught you that your life on earth is like an examination period and that the purpose of providing you with free will is to test you, to see if you merit blissful eternal life. But what puzzles me is this: If you really believe I am as good and benevolent as I am cracked up to be, why should I require people to merit things like happiness and eternal life? Why should I not grant such things to everyone regardless of whether or not he deserves them?

Mortal:
But I have been taught that your sense of morality — your sense of justice — demands that goodness be rewarded with happiness and evil be punished with pain.

God:
Then you have been taught wrong.

Mortal:
But the religious literature is so full of this idea! Take for example Jonathan Edwards’s “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.” How he describes you as holding your enemies like loathsome scorpions over the flaming pit of hell, preventing them from falling into the fate that they deserve only by dint of your mercy.

God:
Fortunately, I have not been exposed to the tirades of Mr. Jonathan Edwards. Few sermons have ever been preached which are more misleading. The very title “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” tells its own tale. In the first place, I am never angry. In the second place, I do not think at all in terms of “sin.” In the third place, I have no enemies.

Mortal:
By that do you mean that there are no people whom you hate, or that there are no people who hate you?

God:
I meant the former although the latter also happens to be true.

Mortal:
Oh come now, I know people who have openly claimed to have hated you. At times I have hated you!

God:
You mean you have hated your image of me. That is not the same thing as hating me as I really am.

Mortal:
Are you trying to say that it is not wrong to hate a false conception of you, but that it is wrong to hate you as you really are?

God:
No, I am not saying that at all; I am saying something far more drastic! What I am saying has absolutely nothing to do with right or wrong. What I am saying is that one who knows me for what I really am would simply find it psychologically impossible to hate me.

Mortal:
Tell me, since we mortals seem to have such erroneous views about your real nature, why don’t you enlighten us? Why don’t you guide us the right way?

God:
What makes you think I’m not?

Mortal:
I mean, why don’t you appear to our very senses and simply tell us that we are wrong?

GOD:
Are you really so naive as to believe that I am the sort of being which can appear to your senses? It would be more correct to say that I am your senses.

Mortal (astonished):
You are my senses?

God:
Not quite, I am more than that. But it comes closer to the truth than the idea that I am perceivable by the senses. I am not an object; like you, I am a subject, and a subject can perceive, but cannot be perceived. You can no more see me than you can see your own thoughts. You can see an apple, but the event of your seeing an apple is itself not seeable. And I am far more like the seeing of an apple than the apple itself.

Mortal:
If I can’t see you, how do I know you exist?

God:
Good question! How in fact do you know I exist?

Mortal:
Well, I am talking to you, am I not?

God:
How do you know you are talking to me? Suppose you told a psychiatrist, “Yesterday I talked to God.” What do you think he would say?

Mortal:
That might depend on the psychiatrist. Since most of them are atheistic, I guess most would tell me I had simply been talking to myself.

God:
And they would be right!

Mortal:
What? You mean you don’t exist?

God:
You have the strangest faculty of drawing false conclusions! Just because you are talking to yourself, it follows that I don’t exist?

Mortal:
Well, if I think I am talking to you, but I am really talking to myself, in what sense do you exist?

God:
Your question is based on two fallacies plus a confusion. The question of whether or not you are now talking to me and the question of whether or not I exist are totally separate. Even if you were not now talking to me (which obviously you are), it still would not mean that I don’t exist.

Mortal:
Well, all right, of course! So instead of saying “if I am talking to myself, then you don’t exist,” I should rather have said, “if I am talking to myself, then I obviously am not talking to you.”

God:
A very different statement indeed, but still false.

Mortal:
Oh, come now, if I am only talking to myself, then how can I be talking to you?

God:
Your use of the word “only” is quite misleading! I can suggest several logical possibilities under which your talking to yourself does not imply that you are not talking to me.

Mortal:
Suggest just one!

God:
Well, obviously one such possibility is that you and I are identical.

Mortal:
Such a blasphemous thought — at least had I uttered it!

God:
According to some religions, yes. According to others, it is the plain, simple, immediately perceived truth.

Mortal:
So the only way out of my dilemma is to believe that you and I are identical?

God:
Not at all! This is only one way out. There are several others. For example, it may be that you are part of me, in which case you may be talking to that part of me which is you. Or I may be part of you, in which case you may be talking to that part of you which is me. Or again, you and I might partially overlap, in which case you may be talking to the intersection and hence talking both to you and to me. The only way your talking to yourself might seem to imply that you are not talking to me is if you and I were totally disjoint — and even then, you could conceivably be talking to both of us.

Mortal:
So you claim you do exist.

God:
Not at all. Again you draw false conclusions! The question of my existence has not even come up. All I have said is that from the fact that you are talking to yourself one cannot possibly infer my nonexistence, let alone the weaker fact that you are not talking to me.

Mortal:
All right, I’ll grant your point! But what I really want to know is do you exist?

God:
What a strange question!

Mortal:
Why? Men have been asking it for countless millennia.

God:
I know that! The question itself is not strange; what I mean is that it is a most strange question to ask of me!

Mortal:
Why?

God:
Because I am the very one whose existence you doubt! I perfectly well understand your anxiety. You are worried that your present experience with me is a mere hallucination. But how can you possibly expect to obtain reliable information from a being about his very existence when you suspect the nonexistence of the very same being?

Mortal:
So you won’t tell me whether or not you exist?

God:
I am not being willful! I merely wish to point out that no answer I could give could possibly satisfy you. All right, suppose I said, “No, I don’t exist.” What would that prove? Absolutely nothing! Or if I said, “Yes, I exist.” Would that convince you? Of course not!

Mortal:
Well, if you can’t tell me whether or not you exist, then who possibly can?

God:
That is something which no one can tell you. It is something which only you can find out for yourself.

Mortal:
How do I go about finding this out for myself?

God:
That also no one can tell you. This is another thing you will have to find out for yourself.

Mortal:
So there is no way you can help me?

God:
I didn’t say that. I said there is no way I can tell you. But that doesn’t mean there is no way I can help you.

Mortal:
In what manner then can you help me?

God:
I suggest you leave that to me! We have gotten sidetracked as it is, and I would like to return to the question of what you believed my purpose to be in giving you free will. Your first idea of my giving you free will in order to test whether you merit salvation or not may appeal to many moralists, but the idea is quite hideous to me. You cannot think of any nicer reason — any more humane reason — why I gave you free will?

Mortal:
Well now, I once asked this question of an Orthodox rabbi. He told me that the way we are constituted, it is simply not possible for us to enjoy salvation unless we feel we have earned it. And to earn it, we of course need free will.

God:
That explanation is indeed much nicer than your former but still is far from correct. According to Orthodox Judaism, I created angels, and they have no free will. They are in actual sight of me and are so completely attracted by goodness that they never have even the slightest temptation toward evil. They really have no choice in the matter. Yet they are eternally happy even though they have never earned it. So if your rabbi’s explanation were correct, why wouldn’t I have simply created only angels rather than mortals?

Mortal:
Beats me! Why didn’t you?

God:
Because the explanation is simply not correct. In the first place, I have never created any ready-made angels. All sentient beings ultimately approach the state which might be called “angelhood.” But just as the race of human beings is in a certain stage of biologic evolution, so angels are simply the end result of a process of Cosmic Evolution. The only difference between the so-called saint and the so-called sinner is that the former is vastly older than the latter. Unfortunately it takes countless life cycles to learn what is perhaps the most important fact of the universe — evil is simply painful. All the arguments of the moralists — all the alleged reasons why people shouldn’t commit evil acts — simply pale into insignificance in light of the one basic truth that evil is suffering.

No, my dear friend, I am not a moralist. I am wholly a utilitarian. That I should have been conceived in the role of a moralist is one of the great tragedies of the human race. My role in the scheme of things (if one can use this misleading expression) is neither to punish nor reward, but to aid the process by which all sentient beings achieve ultimate perfection.

Mortal:
Why did you say your expression is misleading?

God:
What I said was misleading in two respects. First of all it is inaccurate to speak of my role in the scheme of things. I am the scheme of things. Secondly, it is equally misleading to speak of my aiding the process of sentient beings attaining enlightenment. I am the process. The ancient Taoists were quite close when they said of me (whom they called “Tao”) that I do not do things, yet through me all things get done. In more modem terms, I am not the cause of Cosmic Process, I am Cosmic Process itself. I think the most accurate and fruitful definition of me which man can frame — at least in his present state of evolution — is that I am the very process of enlightenment. Those who wish to think of the devil (although I wish they wouldn’t!) might analogously define him as the unfortunate length of time the process takes. In this sense, the devil is necessary; the process simply does take an enormous length of time, and there is absolutely nothing I can do about it. But, I assure you, once the process is more correctly understood, the painful length of time will no longer be regarded as an essential limitation or an evil. It will be seen to be the very essence of the process itself. I know this is not completely consoling to you who are now in the finite sea of suffering, but the amazing thing is that once you grasp this fundamental attitude, your very finite suffering will begin to diminish — ultimately to the vanishing point.

Mortal:
I have been told this, and I tend to believe it. But suppose I personally succeed in seeing things through your eternal eyes. Then I will be happier, but don’t I have a duty to others?

GOD (laughing):
You remind me of the Mahayana Buddhists! Each one says, “I will not enter Nirvana until I first see that all other sentient beings do so.” So each one waits for the other fellow to go first. No wonder it takes them so long! The Hinayana Buddhist errs in a different direction. He believes that no one can be of the slightest help to others in obtaining salvation; each one has to do it entirely by himself. And so each tries only for his own salvation. But this very detached attitude makes salvation impossible. The truth of the matter is that salvation is partly an individual and partly a social process. But it is a grave mistake to believe — as do many Mahayana Buddhists — that the attaining of enlightenment puts one out of commission, so to speak, for helping others. The best way of helping others is by first seeing the light oneself.

Mortal:
There is one thing about your self-description which is somewhat disturbing. You describe yourself essentially as a process. This puts you in such an impersonal light, and so many people have a need for a personal God.

God:
So because they need a personal God, it follows that I am one?

Mortal:
Of course not. But to be acceptable to a mortal a religion must satisfy his needs.

God:
I realize that. But the so-called “personality” of a being is really more in the eyes of the beholder than in the being itself. The controversies which have raged, about whether I am a personal or an impersonal being are rather silly because neither side is right or wrong. From one point of view, I am personal, from another, I am not. It is the same with a human being. A creature from another planet may look at him purely impersonally as a mere collection of atomic particles behaving according to strictly prescribed physical laws. He may have no more feeling for the personality of a human than the average human has for an ant. Yet an ant has just as much individual personality as a human to beings like myself who really know the ant. To look at something impersonally is no more correct or incorrect than to look at it personally, but in general, the better you get to know something, the more personal it becomes. To illustrate my point, do you think of me as a personal or impersonal being?

Mortal:
Well, I’m talking to you, am I not?

God:
Exactly! From that point of view, your attitude toward me might be described as a personal one. And yet, from another point of view — no less valid — I can also be looked at impersonally.

Mortal:
But if you are really such an abstract thing as a process, I don’t see what sense it can make my talking to a mere “process.”

God:
I love the way you say “mere.” You might just as well say that you are living in a “mere universe.” Also, why must everything one does make sense? Does it make sense to talk to a tree?

Mortal:
Of course not!

God:
And yet, many children and primitives do just that.

Mortal:
But I am neither a child nor a primitive.

God:
I realize that, unfortunately.

Mortal:
Why unfortunately?

God:
Because many children and primitives have a primal intuition which the likes of you have lost. Frankly, I think it would do you a lot of good to talk to a tree once in a while, even more good than talking to me! But we seem always to be getting sidetracked! For the last time, I would like us to try to come to an understanding about why I gave you free will.

Mortal:
I have been thinking about this all the while.

God:
You mean you haven’t been paying attention to our conversation?

Mortal:
Of course I have. But all the while, on another level, I have been thinking about it.

God:
And have you come to any conclusion?

Mortal:
Well, you say the reason is not to test our worthiness. And you disclaimed the reason that we need to feel that we must merit things in order to enjoy them. And you claim to be a utilitarian. Most significant of all, you appeared so delighted when I came to the sudden realization that it is not sinning in itself which is bad but only the suffering which it causes.

God:
Well of course! What else could conceivably be bad about sinning?

Mortal:
All right, you know that, and now I know that. But all my life I unfortunately have been under the influence of those moralists who hold sinning to be bad in itself. Anyway, putting all these pieces together, it occurs to me that the only reason you gave free will is because of your belief that with free will, people will tend to hurt each other — and themselves — less than without free will.

God:
Bravo! That is by far the best reason you have yet given! I can assure you that had I chosen to give free will, that would have been my very reason for so choosing.

Mortal:
What! You mean to say you did not choose to give us free will?

God:
My dear fellow, I could no more choose to give you free will than I could choose to make an equilateral triangle equiangular. I could choose to make or not to make an equilateral triangle in the first place, but having chosen to make one, I would then have no choice but to make it equiangular.

Mortal:
I thought you could do anything!

God:
Only things which are logically possible. As St. Thomas said, “It is a sin to regard the fact that God cannot do the impossible, as a limitation on His powers.” I agree, except that in place of his using the word sin I would use the term error.

Mortal:
Anyhow, I am still puzzled by your implication that you did not choose to give me free will.

God:
Well, it is high time I inform you that the entire discussion — from the very beginning — has been based on one monstrous fallacy! We have been talking purely on a moral level — you originally complained that I gave you free will, and raised the whole question as to whether I should have. It never once occurred to you that I had absolutely no choice in the matter.

Mortal:
I am still in the dark!

God:
Absolutely! Because you are only able to look at it through the eyes of a moralist. The more fundamental metaphysical aspects of the question you never even considered.

Mortal:
I still do not see what you are driving at.

God:
Before you requested me to remove your free will, shouldn’t your first question have been whether as a matter of fact you do have free will?

Mortal:
That I simply took for granted.

God:
But why should you?

Mortal:
I don’t know. Do I have free will?

God:
Yes.

Mortal:
Then why did you say I shouldn’t have taken it for granted?

God:
Because you shouldn’t. Just because something happens to be true, it does not follow that it should be taken for granted.

Mortal:
Anyway, it is reassuring to know that my natural intuition about having free will is correct. Sometimes I have been worried that determinists are correct.

God:
They are correct.

Mortal:
Wait a minute now, do I have free will or don’t I?

God:
I already told you you do. But that does not mean that determinism is incorrect.

Mortal:
Well, are my acts determined by the laws of nature or aren’t they?

God:
The word determined here is subtly but powerfully misleading and has contributed so much to the confusions of the free will versus determinism controversies. Your acts are certainly in accordance with the laws of nature, but to say they are determined by the laws of nature creates a totally misleading psychological image which is that your will could somehow be in conflict with the laws of nature and that the latter is somehow more powerful than you, and could “determine” your acts whether you liked it or not. But it is simply impossible for your will to ever conflict with natural law. You and natural law are really one and the same.

Mortal:
What do you mean that I cannot conflict with nature? Suppose I were to become very stubborn, and I determined not to obey the laws of nature. What could stop me? If I became sufficiently stubborn even you could not stop me!

God:
You are absolutely right! I certainly could not stop you. Nothing could stop you. But there is no need to stop you, because you could not even start! As Goethe very beautifully expressed it, “In trying to oppose Nature, we are, in the very process of doing so, acting according to the laws of nature!” Don’t you see that the so-called “laws of nature” are nothing more than a description of how in fact you and other beings do act? They are merely a description of how you act, not a prescription of of how you should act, not a power or force which compels or determines your acts. To be valid a law of nature must take into account how in fact you do act, or, if you like, how you choose to act.

Mortal:
So you really claim that I am incapable of determining to act against natural law?

God:
It is interesting that you have twice now used the phrase “determined to act” instead of “chosen to act.” This identification is quite common. Often one uses the statement “I am determined to do this” synonymously with “I have chosen to do this.” This very psychological identification should reveal that determinism and choice are much closer than they might appear. Of course, you might well say that the doctrine of free will says that it is you who are doing the determining, whereas the doctrine of determinism appears to say that your acts are determined by something apparently outside you. But the confusion is largely caused by your bifurcation of reality into the “you” and the “not you.” Really now, just where do you leave off and the rest of the universe begin? Or where does the rest of the universe leave off and you begin? Once you can see the so-called “you” and the so-called “nature” as a continuous whole, then you can never again be bothered by such questions as whether it is you who are controlling nature or nature who is controlling you. Thus the muddle of free will versus determinism will vanish. If I may use a crude analogy, imagine two bodies moving toward each other by virtue of gravitational attraction. Each body, if sentient, might wonder whether it is he or the other fellow who is exerting the “force.” In a way it is both, in a way it is neither. It is best to say that it is the configuration of the two which is crucial.

Mortal:
You said a short while ago that our whole discussion was based on a monstrous fallacy. You still have not told me what this fallacy is.

God:
Why, the idea that I could possibly have created you without free will! You acted as if this were a genuine possibility, and wondered why I did not choose it! It never occurred to you that a sentient being without free will is no more conceivable than a physical object which exerts no gravitational attraction. (There is, incidentally, more analogy than you realize between a physical object exerting gravitational attraction and a sentient being exerting free will!) Can you honestly even imagine a conscious being without free will? What on earth could it be like? I think that one thing in your life that has so misled you is your having been told that I gave man the gift of free will. As if I first created man, and then as an afterthought endowed him with the extra property of free will. Maybe you think I have some sort of “paint brush” with which I daub some creatures with free will and not others. No, free will is not an “extra”; it is part and parcel of the very essence of consciousness. A conscious being without free will is simply a metaphysical absurdity.

Mortal:
Then why did you play along with me all this while discussing what I thought was a moral problem, when, as you say, my basic confusion was metaphysical?

God:
Because I thought it would be good therapy for you to get some of this moral poison out of your system. Much of your metaphysical confusion was due to faulty moral notions, and so the latter had to be dealt with first.

And now we must part — at least until you need me again. I think our present union will do much to sustain you for a long while. But do remember what I told you about trees. Of course, you don’t have to literally talk to them if doing so makes you feel silly. But there is so much you can learn from them, as well as from the rocks and streams and other aspects of nature. There is nothing like a naturalistic orientation to dispel all these morbid thoughts of “sin” and “free will” and “moral responsibility.” At one stage of history, such notions were actually useful. I refer to the days when tyrants had unlimited power and nothing short of fears of hell could possibly restrain them. But mankind has grown up since then, and this gruesome way of thinking is no longer necessary.

It might be helpful to you to recall what I once said through the writings of the great Zen poet Seng-Ts’an:

If you want to get the plain truth,
Be not concerned with right and wrong.
The conflict between right and wrong
Is the sickness of the mind.

Raymond M. Smullyan