Flowers in Auschwitz—Part 1

Flowers_in_Auschwitz_by_kallioWe place flowers in Auschwitz. Why? Just to pay respect? Or to express hope? Perhaps hope in what David Hart calls an ontology of peace — that ‘being’ is itself an indestructible joy, a repose of self-existent peace in which no evil or suffering can fabricate a moment of negation. This belief—that God’s life is illimitable in its beauty and joy—fell on hard times outside of Orthodoxy for, well, centuries, but it has recently been enjoying (no pun intended) a revival.

Might placing flowers in Auschwitz reflect an innate hope that before, during, and since the occasion of every evil there is an all-encompassing and transcendent joy which cannot be disturbed by whatever evils abound? Might it be that our pain and suffering have defined us so completely that we insist our salvation be purchased by God at the expense of his own joy? Have we come to believe that God has no right to be happy when there is sadness in the earth, that our salvation is in knowing that our suffering hurts not only ourselves but God as well? Somehow we think that our joy in suffering is increased if God’s joy in suffering is diminished. Something just seems terribly off with that.

Discussing with Jeff whether and how God ‘experiences’ the world in aesthetic terms (i.e., whether and how God ‘feels’ the world) got me thinking again about analogies of (a rapprochement of sorts with?) the doctrine of apatheia, which we take to mean not that God is unfeeling or without all emotion or aesthetic appreciation, but rather (as I understand the Orthodox the more I read and talk to them) that the fullness of his aesthetic appreciation (his joy, his delight, his sense of well-being) cannot conceivably be diminished or improved upon. This view of God is rejected with peculiar passion by open theists, but the necessity of this rejection to open theism is something Dwayne and I have been questioning for some time.

Let me mention two convictions (one here and one in an upcoming post) I’ve come to share, as an open theist, with the Orthodox on this. One seems to follow from ‘divine unity’ and the other from the ‘freedom’ implicit in necessary being.

The FIRST conviction regards the integrity or unity of God’s experience, however we’re to express it. I’m having a difficult time conceiving of (Jeff’s suggestion of) fully distinct experiences of contrary emotions in God such that God fully grieves and sorrows over our suffering and simultaneously rejoices over good.

I used to argue something like this myself. I once thought that what was true of God intellectually was true of God emotionally in that just as God’s intellectual powers are not divided among the all the distinct facts or states of affairs he knows, so God’s emotional powers are not divided among all the distinct occasions of evil and good which he feels. The more facts I have to attend to the more my cognitive powers are divided among them. I can give all my attention to a single matter of fact, but as I attend to two, five or more facts my intellectual capacities are divided among them. So each one gets a bit less attention the more I have to attend to. But with God this doesn’t occur. God can attend to any number of matters of fact without having to divide his intellectual capacity between them. If God perceives a million facts, each fact gets 100% of his attention, as if it were the only thing he had to attend to. This is pretty non-controversial I should think.

Auschwitz-064-940x705I once explored thinking about God’s emotional capacity in this way and supposed that God can experience a perfectly appropriate sorrow or grief or anger over occasions of evil or suffering while experiencing a separate and perfectly appropriate joy over some occasion of goodness. I’m still unsure how to articulate exactly why this doesn’t appear to work for me, but among the reasons is the fact that while knowing different matters of fact without deprivation of intellectual capacity is conceivable (because no contradiction exists between any two actual states of affairs), it seems to me having independent experiences of contrary emotions does generate a contradiction. Just can’t put my finger on it.

Later I sought an analogy for God’s feeling the world’s joys and sufferings in the concept of an infinite set. Take the set of all numbers—an infinite set. It’s ‘infinitely intense’; its membership is unsurpassably ‘intense’. But we can also imagine making ‘withdrawals’ from this set. I can remove all odd numbers, for example, and we’d still have an infinite set. Similarly, I often imagine God’s ‘aesthetic satisfaction’ (his joy, his sense of well-being and bliss) in this way, God being infinitely satisfied with the unchanging perfections of his own necessary being and yet able to accommodate real withdrawals which the world’s suffering makes without himself suffering the loss or deprivation of the any intensity of joy. I’m not sure this works. As I mentioned in a previous note, God’s unity presupposes “an integrated experience, a consummate feeling of the whole, which ‘integrates’ without ‘negotiating’, and the only way I can presently do that is to interject into the negotiation an ‘infinite’ variable [God’s experience of his own essential, triune beauty unconditioned in the intensity of bliss it produces by the world] which by virtue of being infinite can be added to and subtracted from without either ‘being improved upon’ or ‘deprived/diminished’.” If such ‘withdrawals’ are conceivable, then we may have a way forward.

Conviction TWO to come.

(Pictures here and here.)

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7 comments on “Flowers in Auschwitz—Part 1

  1. Jeff says:

    Tom: I’m still unsure how to articulate exactly why this doesn’t appear to work for me,

    Jeff: Good, then I’m not necessarily losing my mind. 🙂

    Tom: but among the reasons is the fact that while knowing different matters of fact without deprivation of intellectual capacity is conceivable (because no contradiction exists between any two actual states of affairs), it seems to me having independent experiences of contrary emotions does generate a contradiction. Just can’t put my finger on it.

    Jeff: How can independent experiences be both conceivably independent and contradictory? On the other hand, if God can’t experience distinguishable independent sentient states, many of the routine distinctions humans make seemingly have no conceivable intelligibility in terms of any human categories. That’s the problem I see with your view–it leads to the extreme EO view that God is not knowable (and therefore not discussable) conceptually. And thus, we can’t conceptually communicate to one another about God.

    Now, if you want to say that this is the actual state of affairs, fine. But then this means that your words seemingly have no relevance to anything QUA words. And that seems quite extreme to me.

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    • tgbelt says:

      Tom: I’m still unsure how to articulate exactly why this doesn’t appear to work for me,

      Jeff: Good, then I’m not necessarily losing my mind.

      Tom: Or we both have lost our minds!

      ——————–

      Jeff: How can independent experiences be both conceivably independent and contradictory?

      Tom: Where you’re able to conceive of unintegrated (i.e., independent) experiences in God, I can’t. I can’t even conceive of it in us (and you’ve already agreed we human never have unintegrated experiences). I don’t know how to conceive of the unity of the divine nature as being divisible in the way you describe.

      I can conceive of a person experiencing both an event that saddens and an event that delights by integrating them into an emotional sum total and that sum total just IS the only experience we have. We can distinguish sources of pleasure from sources of pain in the events of our lives, and we can identify in ourselves the emotional response to each. But both joy and sorrow affect each other in us. The source of pain tempers the joy. They source of joy assuages the pain. And the coterminous effect is an integrated whole. But I don’t know how to imagine myself having an experience of sorrow that is emotionally independent of some experience of joy I’m having simultaneously.

      Jeff: On the other hand, if God can’t experience distinguishable independent sentient states, many of the routine distinctions humans make seemingly have no conceivable intelligibility in terms of any human categories.

      Tom: For example?

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  2. Jeff says:

    How is it, Tom, that you can know that “knowing different matters of fact without deprivation of intellectual capacity is conceivable” but yet know that it is logically impossible that “feeling diverse feelings without deprivation of sentient/intellectual capacity is conceivable?” The logic works identical in both cases so far as conceiving is concerned. It merely depends on the meaning of “without deprivation.”

    Apart from conceiving, it is obvious that for humans there is BOTH a deprivation of intellectual capacity and sentient capacity. But once we don’t posit the one for the divine experience, we need not posit the other.

    As for the distinctions, I am at complete loss to explain what the will of God means if God has precisely one quantitative (intensity) and qualitative (some particular blissful feel) sentient experience at all times. At that point, it makes no sense to say God has preferences. For if He can’t feel differently at different times, surely His mind isn’t tricked into thinking He can. And if He can’t be thus tricked, what sense would it make, in that case, to say He prefers one state of affairs over another? For in that case He never feels differently no matter what happens, and He knows this perfectly from the get-go.

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    • tgbelt says:

      J: How is it, Tom, that you can know that “knowing different matters of fact without deprivation of intellectual capacity is conceivable” but yet know that it is logically impossible that “feeling diverse feelings without deprivation of sentient/intellectual capacity is conceivable?”

      T: Well, I never mentioned anything like “feeling diverse feelings without deprivation of sentient/intellectual capacity.” But to clarify, I don’t deny that “feeling diverse feelings without deprivation” is possible. I think it is. I think that’s the best way I’ve got to conceive of apatheia. What I don’t think is conceivable is a “non-integrated experience of diverse feelings” (as I understood you to be proposing). I said they need to be integrated. You objected that that’s problematic in God’s case and that we’ve got to imagine God have distinct experiences of joy, sorrow, etc., each one having nothing to do with determining/shaping the experience of the other. That’s what I’ve been hearing from you.

      J: As for the distinctions, I am at complete loss to explain what the will of God means if God has precisely one quantitative (intensity) and qualitative (some particular blissful feel) sentient experience at all times. At that point, it makes no sense to say God has preferences.

      T: Then anything like apatheia will be out of the question for you. At least you’re in the majority. 8) But in this case you’re left with a negotiated and fluctuating divine happiness which is the difference between all motivations to be happy minus all motivations to grieve. You can (as at the start if I’m following ya) avoid this by supposing that God experiences all his joy and delight in a realm untouched or unmixed with that realm in which he suffers. But that’s what I can’t imagine.

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      • tgbelt says:

        I’m fine with saying that just as God’s intellectual powers are not diminished by knowing any number of facts, God’s capacity for aesthetic appreciation/valuation is not diminished by the world’s violence. For Hartshorne, ‘knowing X’ and ‘feeling X’ (i.e., appreciating X’s aesthetic contribution) are the same thing. I like a lot about this. However, (a) I can’t divide God into distinct experiences of contrary emotions as a way to secure the fullness of each experience. Neither could Hartshorne, which is why he believed God’s aesthetic satisfaction to simply be coterminous with the sum total of the world’s joys and sorrows. God’s ‘well-being’ was co-terminous with the world’s well-being because for him there is no “actuality” to God apart from the world.

        Though I agree on the unity of God’s experience, I can’t go Hartshorne’s route. I’m a trinitarian who holds to creation ex nihilo and who also believes “beauty” is a transcendental, i.e., a name for God. So I think that (b) among all the motivations (let’s call them that) God considers and ‘feels’, there’s one very particular motivation, and only one, which is infinite and all-embracing—and that is the beatific vision, God’s own self-contemplated beauty. (I’m not sure this will make sense to you, Jeff, but at this point in my life, believing God is infinitely beauty and infinitely joyful and peaceful in the contemplation of his own beauty is much more important to me that is believing that God hurts, is in pain, etc., within the world’s pain. But that’s another discussion.)

        So given ‘b’ I can’t imagine God’s experience of his own beauty being diminished, and given ‘a’ I can’t divide God’s experience into compartments, one an experience of illimitable joy as the product of God’s own undiminished and infinite beauty, one an experience relative discomfort because I yelled at my kids, another an experience of unspeakable grief over the Holocaust, etc. If that sort of division helps you, OK. If we both have to bite the bullet of certain mystery, I’ll go with the mystery of integrating all the contingent violence of creation into an ontology of peace. Given ‘b’, God now is that which will for us render all our suffering into relative meaninglessness. I know you don’t read Rm 8 that way. But there you have it.

        How the integration of the world’s violence into God’s peace works — without diminishing that peace by locking the world’s truth out of God’s experience — that’s my mystery. It’s the most rational mystery for me at the moment.

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  3. Jeff says:

    Tom: However, (a) I can’t divide God into distinct experiences of contrary emotions as a way to secure the fullness of each experience.

    Jeff: I can’t imagine how God can simultaneously distinguish between distinct simultaneous extra-divine events. I can’t imagine how God can know He can’t be trumped by a powerful being that pops into existence a-causally. But we posit these things to account for warranted belief, etc. Likewise we can posit distinct awarenesses of simultaneous “contrary” emotions if we need to. Because they’re not LOGICALLY contrary. They’re only instantiationally contrary in OUR experience. But so are multiple streams of simultaneous cognition. You have yet to explain why it’s logical to claim God is limited as we are on the one but not on the other, even though analogy alone fails us for either?

    Tom: another an experience of unspeakable grief over the Holocaust

    J: But it’s not unspeakable to God. It could be relatively trivial given His over-all sentient capacity and still huge relative to ours.

    Tom: I know you don’t read Rm 8 that way.

    J: Rm 8 is forward looking. It says all things work UNTO the good, not that all things ARE good. It doesn’t help people feel a bit better to tell them that though they suffer, God doesn’t. All that does is make it hard for people to define divine compassion/sympathy, etc. So I simply don’t see what you’ve explained or what problem you’ve avoided by positing it. On the other hand, positing divine suffering explains the VALIDITY of scriptural claims that God is sympathetic in the normal conventional sense of that word–which in turn explains the virtually universal human intuition of the same.

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  4. Jeff says:

    j1: You have yet to explain why it’s logical to claim God is limited as we are on the one but not on the other, even though analogy alone fails us for either?

    j2: That sentence shouldn’t have had a question mark.

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