Tuesday, July 2, 2013

God and Our Absolute Relation: A Postscript to 'A Murderer in the Forest'

  In my previous blog entitled "A Murderer in the Forest: An Exercise in Moral Philosophy", I proposed a hypothetical situation which explored the conditions necessary for the statement 'murder is wrong' to hold true independent of human subjectivity. I wish to add to the themes set out in that blog and perhaps pave the way for future topics. I argued from philosophical principles, but I now wish to make some theological points as well.

    If you remember, I concluded that God satisfies the conditions of the hypothetical question, such that the statement 'murder is wrong' is true independent of human subjectivity. Secular explanations either equivocate on what 'wrong' means, or simply distract the issue all together. But so much more follows than a mere utterance of some theistic conclusion. God's existence and your authentic 'self' stand in an infinite relation together. Yes, it follows that a real moral law exists, but it's how it should affect our lives that matters most.

     One of the main themes of the blog, which this is a postscript to, was the theme of dueling subjective experiences in relation to one another. To be brief, a subjective experience causes relational properties between the subject (self) and object. My tasting the 'sweetness' of an apple is a relational property; sweetness doesn't properly belong to me, nor of the apple intrinsically, but exists 'in between' them as if to emerge. Likewise, my being left of my bookshelf is a relational property, for I do not possess 'left' and neither does the bookshelf. A subjective statement presupposes a relation and emphasizes the subject's preference or position. Saying, "Strawberry ice cream is the best there is!" is an example of a subjective preference at play. Or course, strawberry ice cream lacks the property 'best', so the statement is meaning to say "I think that strawberry ice cream is the best there is."

    A dueling subjective experience is simply these relational properties at work with one object and multiple human beings. If one person says, "This beer is awful!" and another person says, "No, this beer is not awful", then no apocalyptic tear in space and time will occur from a seemingly contradictory state of affairs. Remember, relational properties don't properly belong to either the subject or object, so no true contradiction is formed since no contradictory property is added to anything.

     However, this adds severe difficulties to secular morality. In the hypothetical situation, one man murders another man. They both stood as each other's object, while having subjective relations to each other. One man operates under the belief that 'murder is wrong' and the other man thinks that 'killing another human being can be warranted for maximization of utility.' But which is right? I argued that if this dual subjective relation is all there is, then the murderer is all that is left in the equation, for the victim is now dead and consequently has no opinion on the matter. Clearly, societal 'law' is not omnipresent, and so stands in a superficial relation to the murderer (i.e. it is only as good as it is present, and in this situation in the woods, it wasn't). This is the dilemma for the anti-theist.

     Leaving the dilemma behind, I will explain how God's existence changes things. God, as a mind and person, can also stand in relation with other things (more accurately with ALL things). Therefore, when a murderer fulfills his wicked act, he stands before an all-aware Witness, namely God. Yet this relation is an absolute relation, for God is the necessary absolute. Therefore, when you sin against an infinitely holy and just God, you sin infinitely against Him, for at no point does God cease to exist. It follows that one sin against God is to make one a sinner in relation to God absolutely.

     This stands in sharp contrast with religions or worldviews that espouse a 'utilitarian' or quantifiable morality. I argue that morality cannot be quantifiable because it contains that which has no beginning or end. If this is confusing, or dubious, ask yourself the following: At what point does giving money to a homeless person become good? The answer is that any 'point' is not to be found in the actions themselves, since all actions stem from some prior action. Thus I argue it is proper to think of morality as a 'state', rather than a sum total of good and bad deeds. It also follows that there can be no 'canceling' of bad deeds with good deeds, because there are no units to cancel. Such moral units are illusory.

     Since our good deeds flow downstream from our previous actions, it follows that one sin taints the entire stream in relation to a perfectly good and just God. In other words, our good deeds are worthless in changing the verdict against us, for a tainted deed is not acceptable to God. The only way to rid ourselves of this unfortunate relation to God is for God to forgive us. However, forgiveness cannot be achieved without an act of justice, otherwise it is a mere dismissal, a mere indifference, to sin. A perfectly good and just God can neither dismiss or be indifferent to sin. But humans, as we exist in this state, can never offer what is required for justice.

    Only God is holy enough to satisfy the penalty against man. Yet it is man who owes the penalty, who must pay the penalty. Perhaps it starts to make sense when we read John's Gospel:

"In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was GodHe was with God in the beginning. [...]The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us." (John 1: 1-2,14)
Jesus becomes highly relevant. But this also calls us to answer the question Jesus asked long ago: "Who do you say I am?" (Mark 8:29) Answering this will determine whether you have faith in Jesus. But that is for another time.