An Old Absolute Newly Discovered – (A series of 5 articles)
Part 3 – REASON AND THE NON-RATIONALITY OF GOD
By way of introduction to this Part 3, it would be useful to review and emphasize important aspects of the new Christian philosophy of the non-rational. In the previous two parts of this series, I sought to explain the basic concepts of this philosophy. As an introduction to this Part 3, I begin by giving once again the summary of non-rational philosophy that appeared in Part 2:
SUMMARY OF THE NEW PHILOSOPHY OF THE NON-RATIONAL: The Christian philosophy of the non-rational is a philosophy only in a loose, non-technical sense and can perhaps be better viewed simply as a way of understanding (or looking at) human and all of universal existence.
The philosophy of the non-rational simply says that all of life and the events that such life experiences, and all that has being in the entire universe, is in the end or final analysis non-rational at its core. This conceptual non-rational is such a universal and dominating absolute that no type of human rationality (or reason) and no theist or atheist of any class or variety or combination thereof can change it or escape its domination.
On the contrary, it is the absoluteness of the non-rational that dominates over all existence and which in due time changes and humbles all things to itself and sweeps off the face of the earth every human and animal life in the death that is appointed to all. As such, the non-rational is a dilemma that human and beast, rich and poor, wise and foolish, sage and barbarian, theists, atheists and nihilists all face without exception. There is absolutely no discrimination here. In view of this dilemma, the main question to be considered is how each of us copes with both the unavoidability and inevitability that the non-rational, in so many of its forms, brings crushingly into our conscious life.
The atheist has his or her own way of coping with the non-rational. Essentially, all it takes is to defy it, treat it like an enemy and stand tough against all the hard knocks it gives you. It doesn’t take much brain to do this. Any dim-witted, impulsive, “Rambo” type idiot or fool can do it.
The theist, on the other hand, has his or her faith, which takes in the following: do the best that you can with the resources that you have to cope with the non-rational. Beyond this, adhere to, focus on and believe in an abiding (though unseen) goodness of God behind, and notwithstanding, all the non-rational you see and experience. This takes a most profound degree of spiritual and intellectual maturity to accomplish serenely and with success. There is no way that a mere fool or idiot could do it.
So if you want to be or stay a foolish idiot, become an atheist and stay away from the mature faith that only theists can possess. This is why only a minority few become raving atheists. Only fools see in it value enough that is worth seeking. So for the same reason that only a minority are fools, for the same reason only a minority are atheists and just like there will always be fools, there will always be atheists. It is part of the non-rational one has to cope with. Even the sacred and most venerated Bible joins this chorus: “The fool has said in his [or her] heart, ‘There is no God'” (Psalm 14:1 NASB).
THE UNSEEN GOD
Atheists try to make a big issue of the theists’ belief in an unseen God and of their prayers to this God. Because a theists’ prayer is to an unseen God, atheists accuse theists of engaging in “make-believe” (i.e., having an invisible, imaginary friend who has no empirical existence). But such thinking on the part of atheists only serves to betray their abysmal ignorance and stupidity. Apparently, the simpleton atheist mind is incapable of noticing the fact that all human beings, including atheists, are invisible and therefore unseen. I may be able to see the moving, physical (i.e., empirical) body of a human, but I cannot see the non-physical, non-empirical person (or self) occupying that body. So what’s the big issue about an unseen God.
An atheist might respond and say that, with a living human being, at least get to see and hear the physical body moving and talking. But from a Jewish-Christian perspective, while God in the fullness of his deity and power can exist and live in any finite space and time, and has thus appeared at times (as in the body of Christ), in the immensity of his total being, he cannot be restricted to the body of a human. There are different empirical bodies of living creatures, with each body suitable for each corresponding order of being (for example, there is the variety of bodies suitable for animals, fishes and insects and then there’s a body suitable for humans). The infinite immensity of the total being of an infinite God needs a suitable body that is beyond those of finite created beings.
Accordingly, it is the Jewish-Christian view that the infinite God is not only transcendent above but also immanent (or dwelling) within the empirical and boundless universe we all know. Fish, humans and animals have their suitable bodies according to their order of being. For the boundless, infinite God, his suitable, empirical body, a body that any human can see, measure and touch is the universe, a vastness that stretches out in all directions, seemingly without end…infinite. The Jewish-Christian Holy Scripture confirms to us this truth: “Who can hide in secret places so that I cannot see them? says the Lord. Do I not fill heaven and earth?” (Jeremiah 23:24 NRSV); “Thus says the LORD, “Heaven is my throne and the earth is my footstool. Where then is a house you could build for me? And where is a place that I may rest?” (Isaiah 66:1 NASB). “In him we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28 NRSV); “For what can be known about God is plain…Ever since the creation of the world his eternal power and divine nature, invisible though they are, have been understood and seen through the things he has made” (Romans 1:19-20 NRSV).
Thus, the empirical, physical universe is to the eternal, invisible God what the empirical, physical body is to finite, invisible humans who live in those bodies. As for God speaking to us, the Bible tells us that God is constantly speaking to us through the language that the entire universe speaks: “The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament shows his handywork. Day unto day utters speech, and night unto night shows knowledge. There is no speech nor language, where their voice is not heard” (Psalm 19:1-2 KJV).
Moreover, through the words of his prophets, which are now found in Holy Scripture in language humans can understand, God has spoken to us more than humans can digest in a whole lifetime. As we pray, these written words of God guide us and at the same time they are also a vital part of answers we get in prayer. In addition, through the sacrificial acts of Jesus the Messiah, God has spoken and ever speaks to us, assuring us that he cares for our lives; so the Bible confirms it: “God, after he spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, in these last days has spoken to us in his Son” (Hebrews 1:1-2 NASB).
So when Jewish-Christian theists pray to their biblical God, they pray to that infinite, invisible and eternal Spirit of God who dwells within the living, moving and empirical universe around us and who dwells transcendent over this universe as well. But through the physical and empirical universe that is all around us and which never sleeps, and one also that is very much alive and in constant motion, we know that our prayers are not merely a talking to empty space.
MORE ON THE NON-RATIONAL
I consider it important at this point to emphasize the following three aspects of non-rational philosophy:
1. The relationship between the non-rational and utopian mindedness in rationality: In Part 2, I devoted a significant amount of text seeking to show conclusively how human reason or rationality is innately driven by a quest for utopian existence. So strong and absorbing is the force of this drive in human rationality that, under its influence, rationality becomes indefatigable and relentless in sparing no effort or available resource to achieve as much utopia as it possibly can. Utopia or utopian existence was defined in Part 2 as “a state of being where the living environment is free from anything hurtful, threatening, disappointing, or frustrating.”
It is especially the concept of innateness of the utopian drive in human rationality that I wish to emphasize here. In this regard, perhaps we can safely say that the utopian drive in rationality is comparable or similar to, or perhaps essentially synonymous with “the pleasure principle,” a principle (or law in human nature) thought to be inborn and innate in all human beings.
I have understood that the pleasure principle was a concept that first appeared in the writings of the English philosopher John Locke (1632-1704) and was later coined as a psychoanalytic concept by Sigmund Freud (1856-1939). According to an article in a standard encyclopedia, John Locke attempted to define “good [or correct] living” as being something that is pleasurable (as opposed to painful). In other words, for Locke, to live correctly was to experience (or result in) pleasurable living. “Pleasure and pain were simple ideas that accompanied nearly all human experiences. Ethical action involved determining which act in a given situation would produce the greatest pleasure–and then performing that act.”
As for Freud’s version of the pleasure principle, it seems that Freud coined the phrase in relation to what he called “the reality principle,” an opposing principle that is always poised to correct the excesses in human behavior that result from unrestrained pleasure seeking. In this respect, Freud’s “reality principle” appears to be a concept at least parallel in meaning or significance to the “non-rational” in non-rational philosophy. The non-rational is ever poised to bring to a halt the utopia mindedness in rationalism.
In any case, for Freud, pleasure seeking was a drive that could be understood as being very much inborn or innate to all human beings. All of us as humans seek “pleasurable” living, which means that we are ever seeking to avoid pain or painful circumstances. So it is with what I have referred to as the utopian drive in all human rationality.
In the concept here advanced, utopia or utopian mindedness is viewed as being so innate, intrinsic and inborn to all human rationality that utopian mindedness is virtually synonymous with human reason or rationality. So much so is this the case that to say “utopian mindedness” is virtually to say “human rationality.” Human rationality relentlessly seeks, and intrinsically so, to forge or establish a state of being where the living environment is free from anything hurtful, threatening, disappointing, or frustrating. This could be a mental or intellectual state of being, one in the outer environment, or both.
2. A more comprehensive definition of the non-rational: In view of the definitions above stated with respect to both the non-rational and utopian mindedness in its equivalence with human rationality, we are now able to define the non-rational in two of its principal aspects: The non-rational can be defined as either (1) that which is not according to human reason or rationality or as (2) that which does not conform to human reason or rationality’s innate quest for utopian existence. Thus, to say that an event, being or phenomenon is “non-rational” is equivalent to saying that such an event, being or phenomenon is either not according to human reason or rationality or it doesn’t support or conform to the quest for utopian existence that is innate to human reason or rationality.
3. Atheism and the Non-rational: Faced with the non-rational, both in religion and the rest of the human environment, rationalistic atheists have reacted simplistically and with the arrogance of quixotic bravado. Acting as if they know everything there is to know and are therefore able to lead humanity to salvation from the non-rational, if humanity would only listen, atheists only reveal their foolishness and stupidity by this action.
The fact is that no atheist who ever lived has saved anyone from the non-rational. On the contrary, even the most famous and intellectual of atheists, both of the rationalist variety, like Robert Ingersoll (1833-1899) and Sigmund Freud (1856-1939), or of the irrationalists, like Jean Paul Sartre (1905-1980), have gone down into long forgotten graves (Freud was actually cremated and, last I heard, is now confined in the form of dead ashes to an ancient Greek urn laying quietly in a columbarium somewhere in England), each swept away by the crushing and unconquerable non-rational which they sought so proudly to defy. There they lie, humbled and silenced by the non-rationality of death through its non-rational causes (Ingersoll from congestive heart failure; Freud from cancer of the mouth and assisted suicide by his dear doctor Max Schur; and Sartre from edema of the lungs).
Thus, in one way or another, the non-rational eventually catches up with all of us mortals and humbles each one of us, including proud atheists, to the dust of the ground. The quixotic foolishness, arrogance and stupidity of atheists in the face of the non-rational make their end so much more somberly pathetic…tsk, tsk, tsk. The epitaph written on their tombstones should be “These are the great ones (great losers all) who fought valiantly, albeit foolishly, for the futile and stupid cause of expecting to triumph against the non-rational.”
We are now ready to move on to the main body of Part 3. Up until now, I have sought to show how the non-rational rules as a dominant absolute in existence. But to avoid the appearance that I give no meaningful significance to the role of human reason, I need to qualify my affirmation of the non-rational as a universal absolute. To do so, I begin by briefly stating the following two points concerning human reason and non-rationality:
1. The fact that non-rationality rules universally as the dominant reality in existence does not mean that we are without hope as we face the seemingly hopeless and non-rational circumstances of life.
2. Nor does the dominance of non-rationality in existence mean that human rationality is made irrelevant, impotent, or passive. On the contrary, I expect to show in this Part 3 the ways in which the legitimate functions and powers of human reason are affirmed. Moreover, in Part 5 of this series on rational atheism, I discuss how through faith, a non-rational faculty that all humans have and apply, we can transcend non-rationality in all its manifestations.
THE INEVITABILITY OF FAITH
That all humans have faith and that they all apply it can be clearly seen, for example, from the fact that we all have faith in the veracity of our beliefs. Such a faith is forced on all of us humans seeing that our beliefs, theistic or atheistic as they may be, are all based on how each of us has interpreted empirical reality, interpretations which we know quite well are full of competition as to who is correct. For who can say in all seriousness and sincerity, and with a sound mind, that they know everything in the universe that there is to know and that therefore they consider themselves correct in whatever they believe? Because no serious or sane individual can say this, faith in the partial information we all have is inevitable for all.
For Christians, the partial information they have is that they believe Christ-Jesus was an empirical figure in history; that his message is found in the biblical New Testament; that his life overall did not give clear indication that he could have been a liar, a fraud, a deceiver, mentally ill, or deficient in spiritual or divine knowledge; and because of this, that what he claimed of himself and his message to the world was the truth. This is a Christian’s faith.
Furthermore, as a Christian, I personally believe that Jesus was the greatest Jew who ever lived, greater than Moses and greater than any other Hebrew sage in all of Jewish history. But it has taken gentiles such as I to recognize this because, as Jesus truthfully observed, a prophet has no honor in his own nation (John 4:44).
In like manner as that of Jesus’ rejection by his own people, so other Jewish prophets in the history of Israel were rejected, stoned to death and made to suffer by their own people for telling the truth (see II Chronicles 24:20-21; 36: 15-16). Even now, Jesus, the greatest of all the prophets of Israel, is being made to wait, rejected and disowned, outside the camp of his own people, while as the Jew descendant of David that he is, gentiles have made him their king, yet so that the Hebrew prophecy may be fulfilled: “I will also make you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring my salvation to the ends of the earth” (Isaiah 49:6 NIV; Acts 13:47).
But with respect to faith and partial information, the atheist simplistically believes (or has faith) that the empirically here and now is all that exists. Atheists will maintain this faith even though empirical science has not yet exhausted its search to discover what the universe is really about and even though there is no hopeful sign that empirical science ever will exhaust this search. On the contrary, the more empirical science searches, the more profound, rationally inexhaustible and non-rational empirical reality is discovered to be. Hence, even for “know-it-all” foolish atheists, there is an inescapable faith in partial information. They simply cannot conclusively or empirically prove their case. It is all in the final accounting based on faith. But atheists are in such a profoundly foolish state of denial and unreality they cannot (or will not) even see this. For them, it is a “don’t confuse me with the facts; my mind is made up.” For them, the old proverb applies that “there are none so blind [or so stupid, I would add] as those who will not see.”
Now to lay the groundwork for what follows here, we first need to consider the relationship between God and non-rationality.
GOD AND NON-RATIONALITY
From a Christian perspective, non-rationality in existence takes in all the thoughts and ways of God both in what he directly performs and in what he allows to take place through causes that are secondary to him. In this regard, the Jewish-Christian Holy Scriptures make a sharp contrast (or distinction) between the non-rational thoughts and ways of God and human rationality,
“For my thoughts [God’s non-rationality] are not your thoughts [human rationality], nor [as a consequence] are your ways my ways, says the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher [and, thus, different] than your ways and my thoughts [also different] than your thoughts” (Isa. 55:8-9 NRSV).
I was advised by one of my former seminary professors that associating non-rationality with God runs the risk of being understood as advocating the view that God is irrational. I appreciate the professor’s concern. The issue he raised is important and deserves comment.
It would be totally incorrect to assume that I am in effect calling God irrational when I say his ways are non-rational. Nor is this by definition what the term “non-rational” means. In Part II of this series, I have already made the distinction between what I call “non-rationality” and what “irrationality” includes. Here I would briefly summarize by stating that irrationality presupposes there is no meaning or purpose in that which does not make rational sense.
Non-rationality, on the other hand, does not include this presupposition. Instead, it merely recognizes that those things which do not make sense to human reason are simply non-rational. At the very least, “non-rational” leaves the question of meaning or purpose as a mystery that is beyond human reason to fathom or resolve.
Trans-rationality (meaning “beyond rationality” if we take the prefix “trans” to designate above, beyond or transcending) has been suggested to me as an alternate word to describe what I call non-rationality in God. The thought behind the suggestion is that the alternate word avoids the negative prefix “non” and retains the positive word “rationality.” The “trans-rationality” of God, in other words, is meant to indicate a higher form of human rationality. In this manner, the possibility of associating irrationality with God is presumably avoided.
In my thinking, however, there are at least two reasons for not following this suggestion. First of all, we can best “make sense” of any non-rational event simply by calling it what it is, a non-rationality. In other words, we know clearly what a non-rationality is; it is something simply not rational. But a trans-rationality, something beyond human rationality, appears to me as too vague, too abstract, and too mentally cumbersome a concept for practical human reason to grasp. As such, trans-rationality itself becomes, ironically, a non-rationality, at least insofar as the practical comprehension of human beings is concerned.
Secondly, I believe “trans-rationality” fails realistically to take into account the human condition people of faith experience when confronted with adverse, non-rational events testing their faith. At such times, people can be tempted to question the goodness and protective hand of God. When so confronted, no human being should be expected to become suddenly philosophical, able to deal calmly with cumbersome abstractions. Thus I see non-rationality as a more straight-forward and meaningful word to fit the occasion.
Certainly, people of faith can and should affirm that however non-rational the ways of God may be, God is not irrational. We are informed in the Jewish-Christian Scriptures that there is meaning and purpose behind everything that God does or allows to happen, even though we may fail rationally to fully understand his ways. Even at the level of science, we do not question the value of empirical science or consider it irrational simply because it now possesses the non-rationality of Quantum Mechanics, a realm of empirical discovery now forced on all science that is virtually impossible to rationally understand or rationally to avoid. In this regard, I have also shown in Part II that even when considering human experience apart from an issue of whether a person has or has not faith in God’s existence, I pointed out several examples of the many events experienced by all humans irrespective of their beliefs that just simply do not make sense to human, utopia-seeking rationality. So to say that only theists can live with the non-rational (i.e., faith in an unseen, purposeful God) is utter stupidity. The fact is that, in one form or another, no human being can escape the non-rational.
From the perspective of a Jewish-Christian religious faith, non-rational occurrences are viewed and interpreted simply as part of what a non-rational God does (or allows to happen) as he works out in time his non-rational purpose in non-rational ways. Job, for example, an individual referred to in the Bible’s Old Testament, shows that as a person of faith in the God of Creation, he can trust such a non-rational and mysterious divine purpose. Job exhibits a faith that reaches beyond a non-rational act of God. In the midst of very trying non-rational circumstances, he expressed this as follows: “Though he slay me, I hope in him” (Job 13:15 NASB). Such faith looks beyond adverse non-rational circumstances and occurrences. It trusts in the ultimate, purposeful, and caring goodness of God in the face of all the trying, hurting and non-rational events in life.
That the biblical God is a God of purpose in what he does is made clear in the Jewish-Christian Scriptures: “Surely, as I have planned, so it will be, and as I have purposed, so it will stand…This is the plan determined for the whole world; this is the hand stretched out over all nations. For the Lord Almighty has purposed, and who can thwart him? His hand is stretched out and who can turn it back?” (Isaiah 14:24, 26-27 NIV); “In Christ we have also obtained an inheritance, having been destined according to the purpose of him who accomplishes all things according to his counsel and will” (Ephesians 1:11 NRSV).
Christ was allowed to suffer in non-rational circumstances and at the hands of non-rational people. Yet it was all for the noble purpose of atonement. Afterward he was exalted in glory. So here we see a grand example of how through non-rational events, even one involving the tragic death of Christ, there can be meaning and purpose and God can and will perform his work.
So people of faith trust that even their suffering, which to utopia-minded rationality is non-rational, can have a noble reason, purpose or meaning though at times it may not be apparent. At the same time, they also trust as well that, in due course, a glorious future awaits all the spiritual children of God. This sustains their faith and keeps them from despair. The utopia-mindedness that is congenital or innate to all humans, that with which they are programmed from birth, will then finally obtain its utopian fulfillment.
We will now consider a relevant and specific aspect of non-rationality in God: his paradoxical nature.
THE GOD OF PARADOX
Although the Jewish-Christian Holy Scriptures speaks about things of which God is not a direct cause, what God allows to happen through secondary causes still remains part of his universal purpose. In this, God’s ways can clearly reveal themselves to be non-rational. We see this, for example, when it was said that, in his foreknowledge, it was part of God’s eternal purpose that Messiah-Christ should be taken by people with evil intent to be crucified: “This man was handed over to you by [or, according to] God’s set purpose and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross” (Ac. 2:23 NIV).
Note that although it was God who purposed the crucifixion and foreknew the people who would do it, it is the people who performed the act who are blamed for it. God, in other words, is not blamed though it was he who purposed and determined that the crucifixion take place. This does not make rational sense since it appears that the people who had Christ crucified were set up. With the event already predestined, these people appear to have had no genuine free choice in the matter.
But under the principle of non-rationality, we do not deny either God’s foreknowledge on the one hand, or human freedom and responsibility on the other. We, in other words, do not deny either of these things simply because together they create a paradox unacceptable to human rationality. On the contrary, such paradoxes are to be expected if non-rationality rules reality; and every paradox, which is a non-rational, is part of this reality.
As described above, the crucifixion of Christ will of course not make rational sense. But, what else could one expect from the non-rational God of the Bible? We know that God certainly does not apologize for his non-rational ways. He doesn’t have to. So we read in Daniel 4:34-35 of Nebuchadnezzar’s confession,
“Then I praised the Most High; I honored and glorified him who lives forever. His dominion is an eternal dominion; his kingdom endures from generation to generation. All the people of the earth are regarded as nothing. [For] he does as he pleases with the powers of heaven and the peoples of the earth. No one can hold back his hand or say to him: ‘What have you done?'” (NIV).
Hence, rather than apologize for himself, God merely asserts through his prophets and his acts his non-rational dominion. Nor can we apologize for God by seeking to show through rationalistic explanations that God’s ways are reasonable in human rationalistic terms, for, in their totality, they are not.
Even the divine redemption of human beings through the merits of the death of Christ is itself not reasonable (i.e., another case of the non-rational in God). It defies rational comprehension. How can the just God be just and at the same time be the one who justifies unjust and ungodly people (Ro. 4:5)? Why, in other words, should he love the unlovable (Jn. 3:16)?
But on another and entirely opposite side, the non-rationality of God also shows itself in the violence he displays, violence which no rationalistic mind can comprehend or rationally accept. Hence it is not surprising that at least some rationalistic atheists may have become atheists because in their simpleton, rationalistic minds they were incapable of seeing, understanding, or accepting the absolute reality of the non-rational. Consider the following instances of non-rational violence in the acts of the biblical God:
1. To test Abraham’s faith, God orders him to kill his son Isaac as a sacrificial offering – “Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains that I shall show you” (Genesis 22:2). Abraham took this command of God seriously and set out to obey it exactly as God had ordered him to do. He clearly believed that this God was capable of ordering what to us appears as a most violent, non-rational and murderous act. Abraham further believed that as an obedient creature of God brought to existence solely for the purpose of serving his Creator’s purposes (non-rational as they may be) the only thing he could do was to obey the command of his God without question.
To be sure, Abraham was stopped at the last moment from committing the violent act he was ordered to do. But just simply the fact that Abraham did not question the rational sense behind this order from God tells us of the way in which the Old Testament God was viewed by believers of that time. Judged by the standards of modern rationalism, we can say that God in this instance was viewed by believers such as Abraham as a non-rational being whose will or commands could not be thwarted and had to be obeyed without question.
2. In an act of violence, God drowned all of existing humanity with a flood in Noah’s time – “All flesh died that moved on the earth, birds, domestic animals, wild animals, all swarming creatures that swarm on the earth, and all human beings; everything on dry land in whose nostrils was the breath of life died. He blotted out every living thing that was on the face of the ground, human beings and animals and creeping things and birds of the air; they were blotted out from the earth” (Genesis 7:21-23 NRSV). By modern rationalistic, ethical standards, this is genocide in the most horrendous, non-rational sense.
3. Under God’s orders, the Israelites were instructed to commit brutal genocide of several nations they conquered as they invaded the land of Canaan (what is now modern Israel and Palestine) where these nations dwelled – “When the Lord your God brings you into the land that you are about to enter and occupy, and he clears away many nations before you…and when the Lord your God gives them over to you and you defeat them, then you must utterly destroy them.” (Deuteronomy 7:1-2 NRSV) – Here is more hideous and appalling non-rational genocide that was ordered by God, which by today’s rationalistic standards is not only non-rational but utterly unacceptable.
There are several other genocidal events recorded in Old Testament history which God either directed or permitted to happen without this God condemning the events. One final example will suffice here: In the siege of Jericho, once its protective walls had fallen, the Israelites and their soldiers stormed into the city and, after the manner of God’s command to commit genocide, the slaughter began: “As soon as the [Israelites] heard the sound of the trumpets, they raised a great shout, and the [protective wall of Jericho] fell down flat; so the [Israelites] charged straight ahead into the city and captured it. Then they devoted to destruction by the edge of the sword all in the city, both men and women, young and old, oxen, sheep, and donkeys” (Joshua 7:20-21 NRSV). The women, the elderly, the little girls and boys and dumb animals were not spared. Absolutely no mercy was shown.
4. All of the violence of God shown in instances above are of events very long ago in the ancient history of Israel. As such, they do not take in the violence which God has allowed to take place in all of contemporary recorded history. In most recent memory, think for example of the Nazi effort to exterminate Jews killing millions of them. Then there was the Turkish genocidal war against the Armenians, of Serbs against ethnic Albanians and of recent genocidal wars in Sudan and other parts of Africa. Think also of the disaster at the World Trade Center in New York City where thousands lost their life. Finally, think of the last major tsunami disaster near Indonesia where thousands were swept out into the sea and drowned.
5. There is much in the Jewish-Christian Scriptures that affirms the goodness and loving-kindness of God, but obviously this does not give a complete image of who the biblical God is. To complete this image, we have seen here another side of who the biblical God is, a very violent, non-rational side for which he never apologizes, directly or through his prophets. Thus, paradoxically and non-rationally, besides being a God of love, the biblical God is a God of violence and unspeakable, non-rational wrath. To try to undo this undoable paradox, rationalist theologians in the past, both Jews and Christians, have sought to downplay this violent side of God simply because it doesn’t make rational sense. They have sought to find rational ways to make God’s non-rational violence appear not so non-rational. But the evidence for the non-rational and violent side of God is too stark and compelling to be hidden or effectively denied. It remains an undoable paradox.
As for the rationalist Gnostic heretics in early Christianity who sought to resolve this rational dilemma by proclaiming that the Bible’s Old Testament God who ordered such unspeakable genocide was not the same God as that of the New Testament God of love, we find that the New Testament itself does not see things the Gnostic way. Concerning the violent, non-rational side of God in the Old Testament, the New Testament actually affirms such violence in several ways. Following are some examples:
“God [referring to the Jewish God of the Old Testament which Christians accept] did not spare the angels when they sinned, but cast them into hell and committed them to chains of deepest darkness to be kept until the [final] judgment…he did not spare the ancient world [in the days of Noah], even though he saved Noah…when he brought a flood on a world of the ungodly…and by turning the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah to ashes [filled as they were with homosexual debauchery] he condemned them to extinction and made them an example of what’s coming on the ungodly” (II Peter 2:4-6).
Sweet, lovely Jesus himself had this to say: “Just as the weeds are collected and burned up with fire, so will it be at the end of the age, [Christ-Messiah] The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will collect out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all evildoers, and they will throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father [God]” (Matthew 13:40-42 NRSV).
See also God’s violence shown and affirmed in a similar New Testament depiction, given again by Jesus himself, of the coming Final Judgment, where he, as God’s Anointed Messiah-King, will preside and judge with both justice and violent retribution: “[In the Final Judgment] all the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left. Then [Jesus the Messiah-King] will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world…Then he will say to those on his left hand, ‘You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels…And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life” (Matthew 25:32-34, 41,46 NRSV).
So as I stated in a previous part of this series, “Who says, and by what authority, that God must be rational? What if God happens to be non-rational (which we now see that he is) and even capable of expressing non-rational violence or permitting evil to accomplish his will (as I believe he has and still does)? Who is going to dictate to him what he should be or do? If he created all things, wouldn’t he have the right to do as he pleases with what belongs to him as his own creation, either to preserve or destroy it as he sees fit for his own purposes? If he drowned all of existing humanity with a flood as he did in Noah’s time, if he ordered Abraham to kill his son Isaac as a sacrificial offering, if he ordered the Israelites to commit brutal and merciless genocide against the idolatrous inhabitants of Palestine as he did, if he permitted the crucifixion of Jesus his own Messiah-Christ, if he says he will cast into hell all who oppose him to the end, who can resist or conquer him so as to force him to change his ways and become ‘rational’? Or as the Apostle Paul expressed it, ‘The thing molded will not say to the molder, ‘Why did you make me like this,’ will it?’ (Rom. 9:20 NASB).”
6. A final example of God’s non-rationality is his way of reserving to himself the right to make exceptions to the general applicability of his moral commandments to all of humanity. Some of these exceptions are shocking to modern rationalistic morality. The most outstanding example that comes to mind is the case of David, the ancient king of Israel. Any serious Bible student knows that King David was a womanizing, sex addict (he had at his disposal all the concubines he needed to satisfy his inordinate appetite for women and sex). Yet as all addicts just can’t get enough of the “good stuff” which they crave and want to gorge on, David’s addiction to women and sex was so excessive and consuming that it led him to lust after Bathsheba, the wife of his comrade-at-arms Uriah the Hittite, when he saw her bathing (II Samuel 11:2). It was an addiction that finally led him to commit adultery with her.
Finally, David was not only a womanizing sex addict and an adulterer but he also became the chief plotter in the murder of Uriah to cover his sin with Bathsheba. According to the very law (or moral commandments) that God himself had established, David should have been stoned to death for this (Deuteronomy 22:22-24). Yet notwithstanding all these atrocious offenses, God chose him to lead his ancient Jewish people, counted him as someone after his own heart (1 Samuel 13:14; Acts 13:22) and made him the ancestral lineage of Christ the Messiah of Israel, as foretold by the Hebrew prophets (See Isaiah 11:1-5, 10 and Micah 5:2; compare this with Matthew 1:6-16 and 2:1-6).
In humble remorse for all his moral shortcomings, and in the face of God’s blessings in his life notwithstanding his many sins, David exclaimed in heartfelt wonder, “[God] does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities…As a father has compassion for his children, so the Lord has compassion for those who fear him. For he knows how we were made; he remembers that we are dust” (Psalms 103:10, 13-14). God, in other words, can be morally non-rational, that is, when he so chooses. But such choosing is not necessarily capricious.
What helped David’s case and what may have made the main difference in the non-rational treatment he received from God was that David had a profound and unshakeable faith in his God. In this sense, David’s faith, not his deeds, became his salvation. But the fact that David’s sins did occur and that there was a moral law of God which demanded capital punishment for such sins, the event of God sparing and blessing David is still a non-rationality to rationalistic morality. Others who sinned like David were stoned to death. Why should David be spared and the others not. This is non-rationality in God.
While we cannot wholly explain or understand God in rational terms, we can explain and understand him in a non-rational way: It is the way of paradox-though this way of knowing God is itself a paradox (i.e., it is rationality relying on a non-rationality to make rational sense of a non-rational God). Thus, we begin to see that part of what makes the ways of God non-rational is that they are full of paradox-paradox, that is, as our rationality perceives this.
Actually, the God of the Bible is in his very being paradoxical. To say that we know this biblical God in truth is to say and confess that he is in fact paradoxical. On the other hand, if we say that God is thoroughly rational as human rationality determines, we are not at all referring to the God of the Bible. The God of the Bible is in his being-as well as in his ways-ultimately inscrutable (or non-rational) to human reason. As Paul exclaims: “Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out! Who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been his counselor?” (Ro. 11:33-34).
Clearly then, God’s divine “rationality,” which is manifested in what he directs, performs or allows, is, in its fullness, non-rational. Anything in existence that to human rationality appears as chance, irrational, or absurd, is only apparently so to human rationality but not to divine rationality. For this reason, and with this awareness in mind, Paul concludes that what appears as “foolishness” (i.e., the irrationally absurd) in the ways of God is actually the outworking of a higher form of wisdom: “For the foolishness [or non-rationality] of God is wiser than man’s wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man’s strength” (1 Co. 1:25).
This “foolishness” of God was perceived by the early Christian theologian Augustine of Hippo (353-430). Augustine makes this clear in an eloquent passage found in his “Confessions.” He speaks of the many paradoxes (i.e., non-rationalities) in the nature and ways of God:
“What, then, are You, O my God…Most high, most excellent, most potent, most omnipotent; most full of pity and most just; most hidden and most near; most beauteous and most strong, stable, yet contained of none; unchangeable, yet changing all things; never new, never old; making all things new, yet bringing old age upon the proud and they know it not; always working, yet ever at rest; gathering, yet needing nothing; sustaining, pervading, and protecting; creating, nourishing, and developing; seeking, and yet possessing all things. You love, but are not ruled by passion; are jealous, yet free from care; repent, but has no sorrow; are angry, yet serene; changes your ways, yet leaving unchanged your plans; recovers what You find, having yet never lost anything; are never in want, while You rejoice in gain; never covetous, though requiring usury. So that You may owe, more than enough is given to You; yet who has anything to give that is not Yours? You pay debts while owing nothing; and when You forgive debts, lose nothing.1”
We can now turn our attention to the relationship between non-rationality and human reason (or rationality). But first, it is necessary to consider the reality and positive value of rationality. We will do this by looking at some of its functions and powers. These can exist either in harmony or in conflict with non-rationality.
THE POWERS OF RATIONALITY
Is human rationality or reason so subordinate to non-rationality as to be unimportant at best or impotent at worst? This is far from the case. I affirm a real value and essential importance in human reason. If I did not, I would not be writing and reasoning as I am. I consider that what I am doing here with my rationality is very important, real and vital.
Secondly, I also positively recognize and affirm God’s benevolent, though limited, condescension to reason in communicating and making himself known to human beings. We read, for example: “‘Come now, let us reason together,’ says the Lord. ‘Though your sins are as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be as wool'” (Isa. 1:18). By this gracious, though limited condescension, God himself affirms the legitimacy and reality of human reason or rationality.
Nor do I see rationality as fatalistically impotent and passive before the greater non-rational reality. It must be kept in mind that simply viewing non-rationality as the ways of God in existence does not mean that we are expected to submit passively to everything non-rational that happens. As in the case of moral evil or threats from nature, everything non-rational that happens is not directly from God. For the most part, it happens as a result of what God-without his interference-allows to occur in the operation of the laws of nature or the free acts of his creatures.
But if God allows such things as moral evil or threats from nature to happen to accomplish his non-rational purpose in time, doesn’t this mean that if we use our reason (or rationality) to oppose or protect ourselves from such non-rationals we are in fact opposing or resisting God’s purposes? According to the principles of human logic, yes, this would appear to be the case. However, under the principle of non-rationality and the dynamic nature of our human contribution and participation in the unfolding of God’s non-rational purposes, we can affirm that however non-rational it may seem, we can indeed oppose and resist the non-rational events in existence using our rationality. Following are three concrete examples taken from the Bible that will illustrate and biblically affirm this point:
1. Natural laws may create harm. In such events, we have in these laws a non-rational in the sense that they are events which frustrate or stand against human rationality’s innate utopian mindedness. In such non-rational cases, we are to use our rationality to protect ourselves. Jesus, for example, ate and drank to keep the human in him from succumbing to the natural law of starvation from hunger (Mt. 11:19). By the same rational principle, we protect ourselves by living in buildings and dressing warmly in winter to keep from succumbing to the natural law of freezing to death from unprotected exposure to freezing cold.
2. In unlawful events, some may act with intent to harm us. Here again, we are to use our rationality to protect ourselves from such non-rational (i.e., non-utopian) harm and to protest such actions. Before the time of his death, Jesus used his rationality to escape when non-rational people sought to kill him (Jn. 10:39). He was not going to die before it was his time to do so. Just prior to his death, he again used his rationality to rebuke Pontius Pilate for claiming power to have him crucified, even though God had already purposed and predestined that this should happen (Jn. 19:11; Acts 2:23; 3:18).
3. Using our rationality, we can, if we want to, even choose to confront the non-rational with a non-rationality of our own to disarm its strength and, in this manner, to overcome it if this should ever be possible at a given, limited place or time. Two examples of this are given in the New Testament. (1) Jesus said, “If anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also; and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well; and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile” (Matthew 5:39-41 NRSV). (2) Paul said, “If your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink…Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Romans 12:20-21 NSRV).
All these examples given affirm biblically the legitimate functions and powers of rationality in relation to non-rationality. They are proof that, according to the Jewish-Christian Scriptures, rationality is not an illusion or fantasy. It is a real and necessary faculty we are expected to use constructively. In addition, we must bear in mind that we are an integral part of the non-rational universe around us. As such we also participate in and partake of its non-rationality; in the free/yet-controlled-of-God dynamic (another non-rational paradox) that takes place in the interaction between all acting parts of the universe, our human rationality also plays its ordained, legitimate, albeit limited, role.
Moreover, while non-rationality can be viewed as a threat to human rationality (either in itself or its intrinsic utopian quest), it is not consistently so at all times. Indeed, non-rationality can work in harmony with rationality or its intrinsic utopian sentiments. For example, to varying extents, and for most people, non-rationality will show itself friendly to rationality and its utopian wishes: “[The non-rational God] has shown kindness [i.e., respite from the non-rational absolute] by giving you rain from heaven and crops in their season; he provides you with plenty of food and fills your hearts with joy” (Ac. 14:17 NIV).
But an important point to keep in mind is that even though rationality has relative (i.e., not absolute) freedom to oppose and resist non-rationality, and non-rationality may at times be in harmony with rationality, the overall supremacy, sovereignty and absoluteness of non-rationality in life is never broken. Non-rationality stands ever poised as a looming and sometimes threatening and contrasting reality revealing human reason’s finite and dependent sphere of operation.
Just when we think our rationality is in control and can make grandiose plans, things can suddenly go non-rationally very wrong: “You who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.’ Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life [which includes your rationality]? You are [as] a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes [under the impact of non-rationality]” (Jas. 4:13-14).
Another important power of rationality is its ability to constructively objectify itself. To understand what this means, consider first the subjective nature of rationality. Because of its subjectivity, rationality can never be found existing independently outside of human minds. In other words, there is nothing outside of our minds that we can ever point to and say, “See there, that is my (or someone else’s) rationality.” But we do, in one sense, “objectify” or concretely put our rationality outside our minds. We do this whenever we project our rationality in all the tangible and visible things we build and acts we perform.
Thus, for example, we objectify our rationality when in following its creative dictates we write books, engage in discussions, build cities, and develop systems of all sorts. Wherever this happens, our subjective rationality is objectified. It is, in other words, made concretely or empirically obvious-but this clearly is only in its effects, not in itself. Our rationality in itself can, of course, only remain subjective within the confines of our brains.
Although to an extent we negotiate with non-rationality by objectifying and imposing our rational orderings upon it, non-rationality may at any time break in, scrambling and frustrating our rational orderings and our expectations of them. Using our rationality, we build systems (our objectified orderings) negotiating them in contact and dialogue with looming non-rationality. These systems, for example, can be political systems, municipal systems, educational systems, engineering systems, medical systems, and so on.
Yet, as rationally fool-proof as we may make our systems, something non-rational can always break in and scramble them. Is this not the proverbial “Murphy’s Law?” If anything can go wrong, it will…and at the worst possible time!
So much for the positive side of rationality seen in its reality, functions, and powers. We are now ready to examine in specific detail (in Part 4) how non-rationality invades rationality itself, creating a universal rule of paradox everywhere. This state of affairs is one where we find that rationality can never exist as pure rationality. Whether in the collective rationality of a group or in the inner life of every person, rationality exists at all times inseparably mixed with non-rationality.
1) Augustine, Confessions, Bk. I, ch. iv.
[tags]Irrelevance of Rational Atheism, author John Garrison, eNewsChannels columnist, Christian philosophy of the non rational[/tags]