Thursday 9 March 2023

If God Were not a Person then Man Would be Greater than God

 Among those who believe in a spiritual reality there are those who maintain that God is personal, the great I AM of existence, and those who hold that this is a restricted view and that behind the personal God there must be an impersonal Universal Principle transcending all form and limitation, and that this is the real truth underlying the appearance of life in a phenomenal world. You might almost call these two views the Christian and the Buddhist though there is some overlap. Intellectually, you can see the attraction of the latter view. It has a kind of natural logic to it in that it might make sense that behind every thing there must be some one thing and then no thing.

And yet if no thing lies at the heart of reality and the personal is just a veil obscuring that then where does it come from? Also, what meaning would love or beauty or goodness have? Ultimately, these things would be no more than pointers to truth, to be discarded when truth was reached. To think like this is a kind of nihilism even if it's a positive kind as the no thing is not an empty void but a ground of unmanifest potential. But then even potential is something and must derive from somewhere. The fact is that if God is not a Person then he is less than a human being because, when all is said and done, it is the personal that gives meaning to existence. It turns out that the personal is in reality much more profound than the impersonal which latter is the real state of limitation. The unconditioned is like space without stars.


Chris said...

I think an unqualified non-dualist would argue that the "impersonal" absolute is actually transpersonal, otherwise the personal God could not be "Its" first and highest intelligible manifestation. The Absolute transcends what we know as personhood in the same sense- though to an infinitely greater degree- that you or I , as persons, transcend a stone.

According to this perspective, to say that God is only or essentially personal may be to imply that He is no more than we conceive Him to be; it may be to imprison Him on our human level of understanding, to deny that he "opens out beyond" into the infinite.

William Wildblood said...

Yes, they would probably say that but what do they mean by it? it sounds slightly intellectualised theorising to me. I am quite prepared to believe that the personhood of God includes dimensions of personhood that are beyond us. Indeed, I assume that. But the point is God is not less than a person in his intrinsic being and the idea of impersonal being implies that. Impersonal doesn't imply personal plus but personal minus. If you say that the personhood of God is as a pyramid to our square then fine but that is not usually what is said in the personal/impersonal debate. Of course, that example only goes from 2 to 3D and God would include multi dimensional extensions of self

Bruce Charlton said...

@William - I began as a kind of deist - with an impersonal deity or principle on Platonic lines.

But then I began to realize that this meant that even if there was a kind of order and direction to the universe, this would have nothing necessarily to do with me - nor would there be any reason why I personally should live by it.

There is no reason to behave in accordance with the divine order, unless it happened to be currently expedient in my personal circumstances, or I happened to want to for arbitrary reasons - which is merely the 'morality' of a psychopath!

This is the problem with deism. It regards reality like a science - in a merely descriptive way; but with no purpose or meaning for individual people.

Indeed, I don't see any personal reason to take notice even of a personal God, unless we knew that the God loves us and cherishes us - each as an individual. A personal God of mere power has no claim on us, and would control us merely by sticks and carrots. We might serve such a God from fear - but that is again no better than expedience.

I concluded that Only a personal and loving God - i.e. the Christian God - provides personal purpose and meaning for life; and because I solidly believed that there really was personal purpose and meaning in my life - the conclusion was obvious!

William Wildblood said...

My feeling, backed up by my experience with the Masters, is that the deeper one goes into reality the more personal and the more loving it is. We live, as it were, at the farther reaches of being which is why the impersonal element seems to be the underlying truth of things. But that is just the truth of matter not that of spirit.

Bruce Charlton said...

@William - "the deeper one goes into reality the more personal and the more loving it is"

I agree that that is my own experience. But I think there is often a strong assumption or preconception that the opposite *ought* to happen; then the deeper one goes into reality the more the personal should fall-away and be left-behind.

And it *seems* that people usually get what they want, or what they look for, in this respect. My understanding is that the real and personal loving God will nonetheless give the 'abstraction-seekers' what they want, if they really persist in seeking it (e.g. by years/ decades of trained and disciplined meditation - which is what it takes most people to 'discover' the impersonal abstract nature of reality).

Perhaps the most fundamental thing is therefore to be clear about what we would most want - rather than pre-deciding how things are? Otherwise we may receive from God much *less* than was potentially available to us, or than God hoped to give us.

Chris said...

Hey William,

It is understandable that the "impersonal" could be interpreted as that which is on a lower level of being than personhood, like "the Force" in the Star Wars mythology , something on the order of electricity or magnetism or nuclear energy . But again, the nondualist would surely say that the impersonal is actually transpersonal or the "Absolute Witness" (Atma in the Advaitan vocabulary). With that in mind , the charge of "intellectual theorizing" also misses the mark because it is precisely not the result of ratiocination .

"One cannot ,by definition, logically prove the doctrine of nonduality, since arguing from premise to conclusion is dualistic in essence . Non-dualism is, and must be, the First premise as well as the ultimate conclusion, and premises, in the sense of axioms, are never arrived at logically; they are understood through direct experience or intellection. If it were not for axioms witnessed via intellection, there would be no axioms at all, and therefore no logic. In the case of axiomatic knowledge, proof proceeds from certainty, which is prior to it. It manifests certainty; it does not establish it."

- Charles Upton

William Wildblood said...

Chris, they may say transpersonal but in practice they don't behave as though that was more than personal as in my extra dimension argument but less than. This is what I mean by intellectual theorising, something of which Schuon, in my opinion, was a prime example.