If God’s Plan Is For Us To Determine Our Own Plan, Why Do We Need God? The Bullet-Point Version

Either God, the divine, the supernatural, and the transcendent exist or they do not. If they do not, then what is left is alternatively called “naturalism, physicalism, or materialism.” These are all synonyms and they imply that all that really ultimately exists are atoms and molecules. A naturalistic universe is one that can be fully described by science, at least in principle. If something cannot be measured and quantified, it is not objectively true and should be eliminated from one’s ontology, in this view.

  • Naturalism is irretrievably nihilistic. If naturalism is true, then value does not exist. Value cannot be measured. And neither can beauty, love, or goodness. None of those things can be measured or even clearly defined. Quotation from Anna Karenina, Part 4, Chapter 10:

‘But,’ said Sergey Ivanovitch, smiling subtly, and addressing Karenin, ‘one must allow that to weigh all the advantages and disadvantages of classical and scientific studies is a difficult task, and the question which form of education was to be preferred would not have been so quickly and conclusively decided if there had not been in favour of classical education, as you expressed it just now, its moral—disons le mot—anti-nihilist influence.’

‘Undoubtedly.’

‘If it had not been for the distinctive property of antinihilistic influence on the side of classical studies, we should have considered the subject more, have weighed the arguments on both sides,’ said Sergey Ivanovitch with a subtle smile, ‘we should have given elbow-room to both tendencies. But now we know that these little pills of classical learning possess the medicinal property of anti-nihilism, and we boldly prescribe them to our patients.… But what if they had no such medicinal property?’ he wound up humorously.

  • If naturalism is true, then physical determinism is true. All physical events must be caused by some prior physical event. Given the cause, the effect must necessarily follow. Your brain is physical, thus all events in your brain have a physical cause, and these causes stretch back to when time in this universe began 13.5 billion years ago.
  • If determinism is true, life has no meaning. Human beings are not agents – centers of decision-making and action – we are indistinguishable from the larger context of unstoppable physical processes, each mechanically following from the next. Consciousness is either an illusion, or irrelevant; allowing us to take note of our actions, thoughts and feelings, but not to change them.
  • If determinism is true, morality does not exist. Moral responsibility only exists in the context of freedom and having choices.
  • If naturalism is true, then intrinsic and extrinsic values do not exist. And once again morality does not exist. If human life, for instance, has no intrinsic value, then preserving the lives of human beings has no value either. Science can determine that something is potentially “useful” but naturalism has no way of explaining or even pointing to intrinsic value – something having value in and of itself. Without an end having intrinsic value, then extrinsic value does not exist either. Glue for sticking toe-nails to computer monitors is not useful because the end is not valuable.
  • If naturalism is true, then there is no afterlife and everything you have learned and experienced on earth will vanish when you die. You may pass on something to the next generation, but eventually the whole universe will cease to exist either through the Big Crunch, or through endless expansion leading to heat death. When that time comes, every accomplishment, novel, piece of music, artwork, profound thought will also cease to exist and we will be back to nothing once again. And, by the way, for naturalism every work of fiction is nothing but lies. Science and only science is the locus of truth.
  • If naturalism is true, then creativity does not exist. We are all robots inextricably following our programming.

Berdyaev’s Christianity posits meonic (nonbeing) Freedom as primary. Every living, conscious creature, including plants, has access to this acausal Great Mystery on the inside. Creativity takes from the unknown mystery and produces the visible and known. Even scientific discoveries partake in this creativity. This unknowable, primordial Freedom which we have access to subjectively, from the inside, makes each of us unfathomably deep and a mystery to ourselves and to others. This Freedom is supernatural, and it is a part of God. God the Logos, God the Father emerges from this meonic Freedom as His precondition. For without it, He could not be creative, nor could He love. And we, His creation and His beloved, cause Him to exist. There is no creation without the created. There is no love without the loved one.

Literature, paintings, and plays intuitively give some kind of access to this Mystery, which Berdyaev sometimes identifies with Holy Spirit. The Trinitarian God consists of Holy Ghost, Father, and Son. Thus, part of God is utterly mysterious and unknowable. Part is the “Father” and can interact with us through prayer, and part is the Son, where God voluntarily took upon Himself the suffering of man. Adam is the first man, and Christ is Man Transfigured.

God and the divine are intrinsically good, sacred and holy, and they pass on these qualities to their creatures. We are made in the image and likeness of God and we are called upon to creatively respond to God. He is waiting for our answer to the gift of creativeness that our connection to Him has bestowed. He is not there to punish or judge, but to join us in loving, voluntary communion if we choose. And we are to join in loving communion with our neighbor, but again, only if we choose to. It is only through creativity and communion that we come to resemble more fully God Himself.

16 thoughts on “If God’s Plan Is For Us To Determine Our Own Plan, Why Do We Need God? The Bullet-Point Version

  1. “God and the divine are intrinsically good, sacred and holy, and they pass on these qualities to their creatures. We are made in the image and likeness of God and we are called upon to creatively respond to God. He is waiting for our answer to the gift of creativeness that our connection to Him has bestowed. He is not there to punish or judge, but to join us in loving, voluntary communion if we choose. And we are to join in loving communion with our neighbor, but again, only if we choose to. It is only through creativity and communion that we come to resemble more fully God Himself.”

    There is nothing to indicate this god exists or that it is “instrinsically good sacred and holy.” You appear to be using nothing more than the typical circular argument that insists that anything God does is good just because it is god.

    “Consciousness is either an illusion, or irrelevant; allowing us to take note of our actions, thoughts and feelings, but not to change them.” A false dicohotomy.

    ” Moral responsibility only exists in the context of freedom and having choices.” This is a baseless claim declared just to give your god something to do. And if this is the case, then claims of some perfect afterlife are false; heaven can’t exist with freedom to do what one wants.

    Nothing about naturalism says values can’t exist. They may be subjective but values exist. We don’t need any deity to be the source of values. We especially don’t need one that has values that Christians can’t agree on with their claims of supposed “truth”.

    “If naturalism is true, then there is no afterlife and everything you have learned and experienced on earth will vanish when you die.” Nothing more than a typical appeal to fear and greed.

    Yep, we are part and parcel of our experience, so free will in an absolute sense doesn’t exist, but since we can’t remember what those experiences are clearly, it seems we have free will. It’s better than the utter lack of free will that the bible claims when Paul says that no one can accept this god without it allowing them to do so first (Romans 9). Then it damns everyone else for no fault of their own.

    • Dear clubschadenfreude – See my other writings for detailed arguments about the nature of God. My only purpose here is to indicate why a God and the transcendent is necessary for our existence.

      There is nothing to indicate this god exists or that it is “instrinsically good sacred and holy.” You appear to be using nothing more than the typical circular argument that insists that anything God does is good just because it is god.

      —————Logically, for morality to exist, we need to get intrinsic worth from somewhere. It cannot be derived naturalistically, so a supernatural origin is needed. If God exists, and God is good, then his creation is also good. This is all a matter of faith, hope, and logic. Nihilism is the other choice.

      “Consciousness is either an illusion, or irrelevant; allowing us to take note of our actions, thoughts and feelings, but not to change them.” A false dicohotomy.

      —————-A true dichotomy in a naturalistic, deterministic universe.

      ” Moral responsibility only exists in the context of freedom and having choices.” This is a baseless claim declared just to give your god something to do. And if this is the case, then claims of some perfect afterlife are false; heaven can’t exist with freedom to do what one wants.

      —————Moral blame is incoherent where choice does not exist. The concept is covered under “duress” in law courts. If you put a gun to my head and make me donate to charity, I can take no credit for being benevolent; nor if you squeeze my fingers around a trigger and make me kill someone can you blame me for my “actions.” I did not act. You did.

      Nothing about naturalism says values can’t exist. They may be subjective but values exist. We don’t need any deity to be the source of values. We especially don’t need one that has values that Christians can’t agree on with their claims of supposed “truth”.

      —————Please explain how values exist in a naturalistic universe. How do we get values out of a pile of atoms? What metaphysical and ontological status does subjectivity have in a naturalistic universe? For someone like John Locke, the proto-positivist, “subjective” is synonymous with “nonexistent.”

      “If naturalism is true, then there is no afterlife and everything you have learned and experienced on earth will vanish when you die.” Nothing more than a typical appeal to fear and greed.

      ————–I’m not trying to scare anyone. Just pointing out the obvious. If you think an afterlife exists and it contributes to life’s meaning, you are going to need a God. If not, no problem? Greed? I don’t get it.

      Yep, we are part and parcel of our experience, so free will in an absolute sense doesn’t exist, but since we can’t remember what those experiences are clearly, it seems we have free will. It’s better than the utter lack of free will that the bible claims when Paul says that no one can accept this god without it allowing them to do so first (Romans 9). Then it damns everyone else for no fault of their own.

      —————-I have no idea what you are talking about here. If free will only seems to exist and is an illusion then it doesn’t exist! I do not agree that the illusion of free will is better than having none. Would you mind rewriting “Paul says that no one can accept this god without it allowing them to do so first” it doesn’t actually make sense. Is the pronoun referring to free will? You are complaining that you have free will to accept God or not?

      • Richard, you can write a lot about the nature of your version of your god, but that doesn’t show it exists. Every theist invents their god in their image, and creates different “natures” on what they want to imagine is true.

        You claim that “logically” worth has to come from somewhere. What you assume that it has to be from some magical source. Worth comes from humans, no where else. It can easily be derived from naturalistic processes, e.g. our brains. You assume that there has to be “intrinsic” worth with no evidence or reason why. If there is no intrinsic worth, then your god doesn’t have a job.

        You have yet to show that your god is “good” , which would posit a value that is external to your god if you don’t want a circular argument. Is there good outside your god?

        I don’t need faith to have hope or logic. You again make a false claim trying to tie them together. You also make another false claim that “nihilism” is the only other choice other than your baseless religion. Atheists aren’t always nihilsts, though many Christians do try to lie and claim that we are. Life has meaning without religion and I’m quite happy in having subjective morals since they can change for the better, not reliant on ignorant agrarians from a couple of thousand years ago.

        You have yet to show that consciousness is an illusion or irrelevant. Your false dichotomy is invented by you since you need to pretend that a naturalistic universe makes consciousness irrelevant. Since we use it all of the time, it’s rather relevant in our existence. Again, you need a job for your god.

        Yep, moral blame can be rather incoherent if free will isn’t absolute. However, we use the concept since it makes civilization work to remove people who disturb the civilization by their actions. Again, no god needed. And it’s even sillier since your bible says that there is no free will, so your god punishing anyone for what it caused is ridiculous. You use a great example “If you put a gun to my head and make me donate to charity, I can take no credit for being benevolent; nor if you squeeze my fingers around a trigger and make me kill someone can you blame me for my “actions.” I did not act. You did.” Funny how this works great to show that your god is a monster since it puts a “gun” to people’s heads in the form of the threat of hell e.g. “obey me or be damned”. Thus no good acts ever from humans. And when your god picks and chooses who can accept it, then there is no good that exists at all, just control.

        Values are all over in a naturalistic universe. We all have our own, which tend to be similar since we are all humans. Humans are generally helpful and decent. They don’t need to believe in your god to be that way. We get values out of a “pile of atoms” since it isn’t just a “pile of atoms”. That pile somehow got consciousness. Now, you can show evidence that your god caused that. I’m happy to know that humans will likely figure it out, no god needed. Metaphysics (a division of philosophy that is concerned with the fundamental nature of reality) and ontology (a branch of metaphysics concerned with the nature and relations of being) are just human inventions, so subjectivity doesn’t need any “status” from them; humans have subjective values. But if you want to claim that subjectivity doesn’t exist, then make your case. I don’t particularly care what John Locke or anyone else says with their baseless opinions. Lock also advocated for “might equals right” so I’m not impressed with him. I can why some Christians are enamored of him.

        When you try to make a big deal about people dying and insist that it is a problem that no one will remember them, yep you are trying to scare them so they’ll agree with you about your silly afterlife. There is no “obvious” only baseless stories from religions invented by people who are scared of death. That this religion of yours has a god that picks and chooses who can accept it, then an afterlife has no meaning at all. Perhaps with another religion, it would, like one’s real choices making a difference, but Christianity fails in this. And greed comes into play since humans want more and more and more, and want that afterlife and to think that they are special.

        I have to wonder if you’ve ever read the entire bible, Richard. You would know what I’m talking about if you had. Read Romans 9 and tell me what Paul is saying there. Willful ignorance doesn’t work very well if you are claiming to be a Christian but someone you are discussing things with has actually read your bible. We likely do not have classic free will, to be able to think and do what we want when we want. We are part and parcel of our experiences and our physicality. We can be injured psychologically and physically and that affects us. We are stuck with the illusion of free will since there is no evidence we do have free will at all.

        And my sentence makes perfect sense, but you don’t like what it says. “Paul says no one can accept this god without it allowing them to do so first.” Let’s see what Paul says exactly: “
        “11 Even before they had been born or had done anything good or bad (so that God’s purpose of election might continue, 12 not by works but by his call) she was told, “The elder shall serve the younger.” 13 As it is written,“I have loved Jacob, but I have hated Esau.”
        14 What then are we to say? Is there injustice on God’s part? By no means! 15 For he says to Moses, I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” 16 So it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God who shows mercy. 17 For the scripture says to Pharaoh, “I have raised you up for the very purpose of showing my power in you, so that my name may be proclaimed in all the earth.” 18 So then he has mercy on whomever he chooses, and he hardens the heart of whomever he chooses.”
        19 You will say to me then, “Why then does he still find fault? For who can resist his will?” 20 But who indeed are you, a human being, to argue with God? Will what is molded say to the one who molds it, “Why have you made me like this?” 21 Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one object for special use and another for ordinary use? 22 What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience the objects of wrath that are made for destruction; 23 and what if he has done so in order to make known the riches of his glory for the objects of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory— 24 including us whom he has called, not from the Jews only but also from the Gentiles?”

        Here we have this god saying that it picks and chooses who to allow to accept it and who to make some people just an object lesson for the chosen to be damned through no fault of their own. We also have Jesus saying the same thing when he is written to say that he uses parables to keep some people from ever understanding and accepting him. ““To you it has been given to know the secrets[b] of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given. 12 For to those who have, more will be given, and they will have an abundance; but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away.” So we have ““Paul says that no one (humans) can accept this god without it (this god) allowing them (humans) to do so first.”

        Your bible says no free will. You try to claim free will to excuse your god of its incompetence. Which is it? I know I have no literal free will, and I know that there is no evidence to show that your god exists.

      • Dear clubschadenfreude,
        Your chosen name does not inspire confidence. It makes you sound like a professional troll.

        The article you are responding to is shorter than your little essay here. It is literally just a summary of reasons why believing in God is necessary to avoid nihilism. Not an extended argument. For extended arguments you will need to look elsewhere in my work, or others.

        You seem to be under the mistaken impression that I am a Christian fundamentalist committed to every word in the Bible. I am not. You will need to argue against positions I actually hold.
        It is interesting that you take such offense at the points being made here. They are points made by Sam Harris, Daniel Dennett, and others. You should spread your love of other people’s misery to your fellow famous atheists rather than wasting your time on me.

        Most professional atheist philosophers, and most scientists, take determinism as self-evidently true. And they are right that it must be true if their materialist worldview is correct. You can read my articles against determinism if you wish to see why such arguments are a waste of time. Namely, if they are right, then rational persuasion does not exist and their argument is null and void.

        “Worth comes from humans, nowhere else. It can easily be derived from naturalistic processes, e.g. our brains.”

        Our brains are lumps of meat in our skulls that in no way shape or form are capable of inculcating something with intrinsic value. Intrinsic value has no place in a materialistic universe which can be completely described by science. Intrinsic worth is necessary for extrinsic worth to exist. You will need to do some reading in my back catalog to find out why.

        Atheists are not always nihilists because atheists are almost never logically consistent with their own metaphysics which is a good thing really.

        I think you think I am inventing a strawman that atheists don’t hold. Here is a quote from Richard Dawkins:

        “In a universe of blind physical forces and genetic replication, some people are going to get hurt, other people are going to get lucky, and you don’t find any rhyme or reason in it, nor any justice. The universe we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil, no good, nothing but blind, pitiless indifference.” (Dawkins R., “River out of Eden: A Darwinian View of Life,” BasicBooks: 1995, p.133.)

        Go write your letters to Dawkins and then get back to me.

        “Funny how this works great to show that your god is a monster since it puts a “gun” to people’s heads in the form of the threat of hell” – I agree that such a God would be a monster. God does not do this.
        If you believe consciousness is real and significant then you are not a materialist.

        “Metaphysics (a division of philosophy that is concerned with the fundamental nature of reality) and ontology (a branch of metaphysics concerned with the nature and relations of being) are just human inventions”
        Fun for you – so much easier than having to think or be consistent with your underlying axioms.

        “When you try to make a big deal about people dying and insist that it is a problem that no one will remember them”

        That’s not the problem. It’s the dying part. You think I made up fear of death and disappearing? I don’t think God picks and chooses who survives death and thus it has nothing to do with feeling special. You are creating a strawman in attributing these beliefs to me and no, you don’t get to decide what “proper” Christianity is.

        “We also have Jesus saying the same thing when he is written to say that he uses parables to keep some people from ever understanding and accepting him”

        Jesus spoke in parables (the bit you quote has nothing to do with explaining why) to communicate with even the most dense, and also because he is not an extension of Jewish Law and is not in the commandment business. Parables are questions that call upon you to try to answer them.

        “I know I have no literal free will”

        There is only one kind of free will. If you have no choice whether to write this, and I have no choice in how I respond then this exercise is pointless – which it is anyway for other reasons.

        https://orthosphere.wordpress.com/2016/03/19/the-illogicality-of-determinism/

        https://orthosphere.wordpress.com/2016/10/28/the-illogicality-of-determinism-further-considerations/

        The existence of morality and free will is evidence that God exists, plus multitudes of mystics who have reported as such. It is not indubitable evidence, but that is another matter.

  2. He is not there to punish or judge, but to join us in loving, voluntary communion if we choose. And we are to join in loving communion with our neighbor, but again, only if we choose to. It is only through creativity and communion that we come to resemble more fully God Himself.

    I am under the impression that punishment and judgement are intrinsic parts of God’s Justice. Justice (i.e. differentiating between behavior which is intrinsically good or intrinsically bad) is inherently judgement. Freedom per se isn’t a virtue, because virtue per se limits our freedom. We are free to pursue both virtue and vice in equal measure. Something which contains in itself both good and bad qualities cannot be intrinsically good, only conditionally good. Freedom is like a tool, lets say a wrench. A wrench can be used to tighten a bolt which is loose, loosen a bolt which is tight, or to hit a man in the head. Describing Freedom as Primary is saying that the Wrench is Primary. Freedom is a consequence of the supernatural gifts of Agency, just as the Wrench’s usefulness is a consequence of the skill of the user. Freedom is only good when it is directed towards the good.

    This Freedom is supernatural, and it is a part of God. God the Logos, God the Father emerges from this meonic Freedom as His precondition. For without it, He could not be creative, nor could He love. And we, His creation and His beloved, cause Him to exist. There is no creation without the created. There is no love without the loved one.

    Berdyaev’s Christianity seems backwards to me. You preface this article with “God (…) exists or [He does] not.” then you proceed with the given that He does not, so presumably this is how Berdyaev justifies Christianity in a world that doesn’t have God. But my preceding point about Freedom causes this subsequent argument about creation causing creator to breakdown further. This is “I think therefore I am” taken to it’s ultimate conclusion: I think therefore God is. It seems to be reification of the human condition, while intentionally looking away from any mystery which might point to God properly conceived.

    God and the divine are intrinsically good, sacred and holy, and they pass on these qualities to their creatures. We are made in the image and likeness of God and we are called upon to creatively respond to God. He is waiting for our answer to the gift of creativeness that our connection to Him has bestowed.

    If we created God, and God is intrinsically good sacred and holy, then how much more good, sacred, and holy are we? if we are free, and freedom is primary, regardless of how it is used, then what point is there in distinguishing between good and bad, because the mere act of freedom, of being, is what makes us holy. Ending one graf with “His creation cause Him to exist” and beginning the next with “God (…) is intrinsically good sacred and holy” seems like self worship to me.

    Maybe I’m missing the point of all this as a hypothetical exercise from your introductory “lets assume God doesn’t exist”. But I think Berdyaev’s musings on this subject are deleterious to properly conceived Christian thought as it SEEMS that he describes the pinnacle of holiness as the self and properties of the self.

    • Hi, Scoot – Thanks for commenting. There are consequences for being the sort of person one is. There is no need for punishment and reward from some third party. Any tipping of the scales by God would represent a gross injustice – though God’s grace should be factored in. Freedom comes before any choice at all and is not a “virtue.” Freedom is not a good per se – it is a precondition of goodness and thus precedes it ontologically and metaphysically. Berdyaev objects to the idea that freedom is there so that one can choose the good as a kind of after thought. Freedom and creativity go hand in hand and represents the ultimate Great Mystery of God. Real ethics require creativity in reconciling competing goods in concrete situations.

      Sorry, how do I proceed with the given that God does not exist? I’m confused. The little article is a reductio ad absurdum argument against the naturalistic atheistic thesis, not for it. How is positing the Great Mystery looking away from mystery? Are you sure you were reading the right article? The creator comes into being, as creator, with His creation, is pretty much a tautology.

      God and His creation created each other, in a sense. Being free is part of what makes us holy, but not all of it. We are spiritual to the degree that we realize our nature as the image and likeness of God’s.

      My introduction does not assume God does not exist. I just point to the negative consequences of thinking He doesn’t. Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and all your mind, and all your soul. And love your neighbor as yourself. The first is the precondition of the second. The pinnacle of holiness is God and our holiness is derived from His.

      • Ok, the misunderstanding was my own. you say: “Either God, the divine, the supernatural, and the transcendent exist or they do not. If they do not, then what is left is alternatively called “naturalism, physicalism, or materialism.”” – this was setting the stage for your reductio ad absurdem, and my comment is essentially saying “That is absurd!”

        There are consequences for being the sort of person one is. There is no need for punishment and reward from some third party.

        How do you differentiate consequences and punishment? Hell is a consequence for being the sort of person one is, if that sort is an evil sort, for example. It is just to punish people who do ill, and it is likewise just to reward people who do good. God doesn’t tip the scales, he weighs us and finds us either wanting or wealthy. He is perfectly Just, so there is no worry that anyone will get any more or any less than they deserve.

        Freedom is not a good per se – it is a precondition of goodness and thus precedes it ontologically and metaphysically. Berdyaev objects to the idea that freedom is there so that one can choose the good as a kind of after thought.

        I think we agree on this point. But how does Berdyaev answer that Freedom can be used for both good and ill? I think that is my primary confusion/objection. Freedom isn’t an afterthought, but even so we are at risk of choosing both the good and the bad. It is that risk that makes me think Freedom is just a means to an end (an important one), and the real gift is something else.

      • Hi, Scoot – glad we got it sorted! I like the idea that heaven and hell are a state of mind as much as anything else. On earth we punish and reward in some kind of rough justice, but, to quote the movie “Hell or High Water,” nobody gets away with anything, ever, ultimately whether caught or not. Also, being good is its own reward. If you are good in order to get into heaven then your motives are selfish and you are not so good after all. If you are good when you do not wish to be, you will still have to be good in heaven, and then you will be miserable, never getting to do what you actually want.

        As for Freedom, it has a tragic aspect. Evil must be given free reign. We must not socially engineer societies so that evil is not even a possibility. And, paradoxically, we must try to mitigate evil and fight against it. The alternative to Freedom is slavery and a robotic, meaningless, existence. To prevent that one kid from being maltreated, the solution cannot be to place every human in chains. Thus, it is appropriate to feel highly ambivalent about the consequences of Freedom, but, since it is the source of the voluntary nature of love and friendship, for each other and for God, and for creativity, a bowing down before the Great Mystery seems appropriate.

      • If you are good in order to get into heaven then your motives are selfish and you are not so good after all.

        Doesn’t this create a kind of Catch-22? How do you try to get to heaven without wanting to get to heaven? It seems to me wanting to get to Heaven is wanting to greatest good attainable. No one knows if they “are in” or not, so the only thing they can do is be as virtuous as they can be. The whole reason “virtue is it’s own reward” has any meaning is because generally speaking it doesn’t provide the highest return on investment in this life. It doesn’t return any investment in the next either, but being in the beatific vision is a joy greater than any other joy, that makes any earthly joy pale in comparison.

        The alternative to Freedom is slavery and a robotic, meaningless, existence.

        I have to disagree here. There is another alternative to Freedom, and it is obedience. Slavery is obedience under duress, and duress rightly is an unpleasant experience. But Willful obedience can be joyful. Willful obedience to God, by doing good things, so we may be united with Him in the beatific vision, has a certain serenity to it. Freely choosing obedience to God and freely choosing to “bow down before the great mystery” is Worship. Worship, properly conceived, is unambiguously good. So if I were creating a hierarchy of things, Worship would be greater than Freedom, even though Worship (via obedience) is less free.

      • Hi, Scoot: You might like a Netflix TV show called “The Good Place” where a character does exactly what you describe, counting up every point for every good deed to make sure the math comes out in his favor. Another character spent her time on earth collecting money for charities, but she only did it to upstage her sister and thus has been sent to hell. Motivation, while not everything, sure counts for a lot. I say to my students that if on earth you want to punch people on the nose but refrain to get into heaven, assuming you get into heaven, you still can’t punch noses and still can’t do what you want. Heaven as a reward does not even appear to make sense. The evil won’t like heaven, and the good are already in heaven. If you can say “Lord forgive them for they know not what they do” from your POV you are surrounded only be lovable friends, and have no enemies.

        I really get the sense that you are a nice guy Scoot and you are probably living your life just fine without any advice from me. Maybe God would be pleased with your attitude. Worship sounds just great. Since, for me, Freedom (the Holy Spirit and Ungrund) is part of God, worship will include worshiping freedom.

        As for obedience, I’m in favor of obedience for dogs and small children who can’t be trusted to be morally autonomous because they can understand only “this displeases me” but not why. But I don’t want my 23 year old son to obey me. I want him to join me in loving communion and shared ideals. Bearing in mind that he is a morally sound, well-meaning individual who, when he makes mistakes, he makes them involuntarily and accidentally. I am not here to judge him, but to be a parent who is there for him if and when he needs me, but mainly to loosely join our lives together in comradery and fellowship. He is free to communicate if and when he chooses with no consequences from me. Certainly no threats.

        There is a Russian tradition that there is universal salvation or no salvation. Anyone who can sit happily in heaven without feeling pain at the suffering of another creature does not deserve to be in heaven, let alone Dante’s notion that part of the joy of heaven is hearing the suffering of the damned.

        Yours in the spirit of friendliness.

      • Likewise, Richard, I appreciate your patience with me as I consider your ideas. Perhaps if I deviate too far from what you were getting at in the OP there may be a better venue to continue the discussion. For the time being, at least, I press on!

        a character does exactly what you describe, counting up every point for every good deed to make sure the math comes out in his favor. Another character spent her time on earth collecting money for charities, but she only did it to upstage her sister and thus has been sent to hell.

        The problem with this is that there is no knowable threshold for Heaven. I am an accountant, so financial metaphors appeal to me: If good deeds are revenue, and bad deeds are expenses, then it may not be enough to have a profit of $1 if gross revenues were a million, and expenses were a million minus one. Contrariwise, it may indeed be more than enough to have a profit of $1 if gross revenues were $1, and expenses were 0.

        The point I’m getting at is that wanting to get into heaven is not any less admirable for wanting explicitly to get into heaven. I think an argument could be made that wanting Heaven is the highest aim of human existence, and the pursuit thereof ought to lead us to be saints. Saint’s were Saint’s not because they “knew” they were getting into heaven, but because they had perfectly conformed themselves to God’s will, subordinated their Freedom to Obedience to God. From Matthew 11:30: For my yoke is sweet and my burden light.. This is the language of obedience: the yoke restrains us, but it is not painful. The burden must be carried, but it is not heavy.

        Turning now to specific points you raise:

        Heaven as a reward does not even appear to make sense. The evil won’t like heaven, and the good are already in heaven.

        There are two objections I have with this. 1- The Evil ought not be evil, for if they won’t like heaven, they will like hell even less. The evil ought not be accepted as permanently evil, because Christ came to redeem the lowest of the lowly. Even someone evil can, through Christ, merit the fruits of Heaven.

        2- The good don’t know whether they are in heaven or not. No one can know in this life. So the good must continue trying and struggling to be good, keeping the sacraments and worshipping God, so that they can try as much as they can to stack the odds in their favor. Luke 8:17-18: For there is not any thing secret that shall not be made manifest, nor hidden, that shall not be known and come abroad. Take heed therefore how you hear. For whosoever hath, to him shall be given: and whosoever hath not, that also which he thinketh he hath, shall be taken away from him.

        Since, for me, Freedom (the Holy Spirit and Ungrund) is part of God, worship will include worshiping freedom.

        Likewise, please don’t misunderstand me as instructing you how to live your life, but I am trying to understand what you are saying/advocating/describing. Perhaps my misunderstanding comes from misunderstanding your concept of Freedom. But “worshipping Freedom” seems to be worshipping the football field, while the referee is standing right there. Freedom is a gift from God, we agree as much on this point. But unless I have misunderstood you, worshiping the gift is to miss worship the one who gave it to you.

        As for obedience, I’m in favor of obedience for dogs and small children who can’t be trusted to be morally autonomous because they can understand only “this displeases me” but not why. But I don’t want my 23 year old son to obey me. I want him to join me in loving communion and shared ideals.

        God wants this for us, too. But “morally autonomous” doesn’t mean “moral license”–We are free to make moral choices, but not free to decide moral values for ourselves, this is the crux of what I’m trying to get across. If I were to go to my father and insult him, berate him, and ask him to finance my bad behavior, it would be reasonable–nay, responsible–for him to chastise me. Imagine doing the same to our heavenly Father, how much worse the insult, how much worse the chastisement.

        There is a Russian tradition that there is universal salvation or no salvation. Anyone who can sit happily in heaven without feeling pain at the suffering of another creature does not deserve to be in heaven, let alone Dante’s notion that part of the joy of heaven is hearing the suffering of the damned.

        Matthew, 7:13-14
        Enter ye in at the narrow gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way that leadeth to destruction, and many there are who go in thereat. How narrow is the gate, and strait is the way that leadeth to life: and few there are that find it!

        Matthew, 19:24-26
        And again I say to you: It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of heaven. And when they had heard this, the disciples wondered very much, saying: Who then can be saved? And Jesus beholding, said to them: With men this is impossible: but with God all things are possible.

        Christ was pretty explicit that salvation is not automatically universal. If you haven’t read it already, CS Lewis has a powerful little parable, “The Great Divorce”, which explains this better than I ever could.

        Thank you again for a challenging and thought provoking discussion!

      • Hi, Scoot – I agree that the evil should not be regarded as irredeemably evil. I was not suggesting that salvation is automatic. Berdyaev suggests we should be trying to help all living creatures get into heaven too – but this is a never ending task. Basically, it is the philosopher who returns to the prisoners in the cave, forgoing his personal happiness in the process. Plato already predicts the prisoner’s reaction to the philosopher.

        By morally autonomous I mean able to differentiate right from wrong, and I ideally, to know why right is right and wrong is wrong, and to act accordingly. If someone is in need of chastisement, and external rewards and punishments they are not morally autonomous as I am thinking of the concept in this context. My son knew who he wanted to be friends with and who he didn’t want to hang out with, the he didn’t want to hang out with the “bad” kids, who stole, lied, and skipped school. A certain amount of creativity will be required to reconcile competing goods in this fallen world e.g., being honest and protecting the innocent.

        I’m following Berdyaev here – there is an aspect of God that is the Great Mystery (Freedom) and can only be spoken about negatively – the apothatic theological tradition. And then there is God the Person, the Logos, who can be spoken about positively in the cataphatic tradition. The first is something like the Godhead. The second is the God as a Being that emerges from the Great Mystery in an ongoing process.

        That’s fun to take an accounting approach to getting into heaven. Good works is a very Catholic notion, one step removed from Jewish Law. The Pharisees were very convinced they could get into heaven by rule-following, but 13 Corinthians says otherwise and I would apply 13 Corinthians to good works too.

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  4. Richard @ You raise what I call the exquisite definition of goodness in answer to Scoot. This is duty for duty’s sake, goodness for goodness’s sake, etc. Cursed as I am with a vulgar mind, I find these expressions hard to understand. I can see doing good without expectation of personal benefit, and can indeed see that this sort of self-sacrifice is the highest form of moral behavior, but I’m a little puzzled by a purely formal morality that has no beneficiaries whatever. The closest I can get is the image of an old gentleman who dresses for dinner although he dines alone and will dine alone until he dies. It appears that he is preserving forms for the sake of the forms, but he also enjoys the personal benefit of demonstrating that he is not “going to the dogs.” I’m not sure that purely formal morality must always be under suspicion of vanity, but many actions without beneficiaries would seem to be empty gestures.

    I like that line about classical education being retained as “pills” against nihilism. It makes me think of old explorers who took their quinine as they marched through some vast malarial swamp. What “pills” are we taking today? We are still marching through the malarial swamp of naturalism, but we lost our case of classical eduction in a quagmire some ways back.

    • JMSmith – Yes. I hate Anna Karenina as a novel, but loved the part about the pills. Good and loving people do things out of love and goodness. If you do it for personal salvation, it’s selfish and you won’t be saved. I’m going with 13 Corinthians. Recently, I tried picking up garbage on my walking route. I hated it. There was too much of it, I had to have a giant bag hitting me as I tried to jog up the hilly parts, and then it overwhelmed my garbage system when I got home. I was just annoyed and the exercise was worthless. “Good works” without love doesn’t mean a bunch.

      Did I suggest morality should have no beneficiaries? Presumably, me not using you as a means to an end will benefit you, but that’s not why I’m doing it. Reciprocity will benefit the both of us. If you do me a favor, I’ll try, or ought to try, to return it, I’ll be motivated to do it spontaneously, and you’ll do the same in a virtuous circle.

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