Alan’s reply in the comments section of the preceding post (check ‘em out) sent me back to Trinity & Process to find a couple relevant passages which I thought would be a good place to start exploring. Anticipating precisely the discussion we’re having, in Ch 3, Greg (Boyd) writes:
We will do well to immediately forestall an obvious objection from a theistic perspective to our argument, an argument which is frequently employed by Process theologians in support of their position. This will not only remove one obstacle from our subsequent reconstruction of Hartshorne’s doctrine of God, but will further lay the groundwork for this reconstruction by articulating the relationship which we perceive to exist between this supposed unsurpassable divine instance of aesthetic enjoyment and the infinite compossibilities of finite relations.
The objection is this: it seems that if God is eternally characterized within Godself as an unsurpassable instance of aesthetic enjoyment, then the infinite compossibility of finite relations can mean nothing to God. It seems that if “God can be neither increased nor diminished by what we do,” then “our action, like our suffering, must be in the strictest sense wholly indifferent to him.” It seems that if we do not increase God’s enjoyment, then all talk about “serving God” is meaningless and “our existence is idle.” In short, it may seem that either our existences increase the value of God’s experience, or our existences are of no value to God.
In response, I believe a distinction can be made between the “subjective intensity” of an aesthetic experience and its “objective expression.” To attempt to make this distinction clear, we might return to our earlier example of listening to a symphony. Though the intensity of one’s enjoyment of a symphony does not increase once the acme of his or her possible aesthetic satisfaction has been attained, this does not render the remainder of the symphony unimportant. Rather, each changing harmonic progression continues to be enjoyed because of the continuance of novel variations it expresses. The aesthetic satisfaction of the listener under ideal conditions is constant (assuming that the acme has been attained and is sustained), but the occasion for its expression and enjoyment is changing—and indeed can, hypothetically, have an infinite variety of forms.
Perhaps an analogy which is more helpful in picturing the relationship between aesthetic satisfaction and aesthetic expression in God is that of an ideal artist. We may conceive of a factitious “ideal” artist who always accomplishes works of art so perfect that her aesthetic satisfaction in response to them is always unsurpassably intense. But this perfection, it seems, would in no way imply that all of her works after her first in which her zenith of aesthetic satisfaction was first attained had to be unimportant to her. They would be important, though not as objects to improve her ideal aesthetic satisfaction. Rather, they are valuable to her as novel expressions of this ideal enjoyment.
Why, one might ask, would such an artist want to arrive at a new expression of her aesthetic enjoyment if it was already ideal (assuming that this ideal artist would naturally sustain this ideal intensity without further works to produce it)? Would not her first ideal work suffice? Does not the production of new works signify that she is aiming at more intense satisfaction? And by analogy, does not the creation of the non-divine world signify that the divine artist is aiming at a more intense satisfaction? Why would God create the world if God had already (eternally) attained an unsurpassable aesthetic satisfaction within Godself?
This answer is, I believe, implicit in Hartshorne and Whitehead’s own views of beauty: the spontaneous expression of an aesthetic intensity is an end in itself. It needs no further justification. Fundamental to Process thought—and many other aesthetic theories as well—is the conviction that beauty is the one aim which by its nature is self-justifying. Indeed, as Kant, von Schiller, Valery and many others have recognized, aesthetic satisfaction is distinctly aesthetic precisely because it is wholly non-utilitarian: it is “purposiveness without purpose,” spieltrieb, a “drive-to-play.” If this is so, then it would seem that the on-going expression of an ideal aesthetic intensity would need no further purpose to explain it or justify it. Our ideal artist would, therefore, enjoy a variety of ways of re-expressing her aesthetic delight, even though these novel re-expressions could only re-express, and not increase, this delight.
We may state the matter in a different way, this time in the light of our previously articulated dispositional ontology. Our ideal artist is essentially constituted by the disposition to produce and enjoy with an unsurpassable intensity artistic works. But dispositions, we have argued with Hare and Madden, are not exhausted by their exercise. They are abiding orders of creativity, particularized laws of actualization, structured proclivities of being in its movement from possibility to actuality, and they remain (or at least may remain) even after any given instance of their exercising. What is more, dispositions, aesthetically understood, do not necessitate only one possible outcome. Spontaneity, we have argued for a number of reasons, is an inherent aspect of things.
This being the case, we can I believe, now understand why our ideal artist would be motivated to re-express her aesthetic aim and enjoy her aesthetic satisfaction in novel ways, though none of these ways increases the intensity of her (already unsurpassable) satisfaction. Her essential self is defined (at least in part) as a creative becoming towards an aesthetic satisfaction, and the reality of this self-defining law of concrescence abides so long as she exists. Her enduring self-identity, her “essence,” is thus defined by a futurity of creativity, and her actuality is defined at any given moment (at least in part) by an unsurpassable intensity of satisfaction resulting from this creativity. Thus, this hypothetical artist cannot but create, and she cannot but enjoy with maximal intensity her creativity, though the precise way she creates and enjoys it is in part spontaneously generated.
Her definitional disposition is an end in itself. Correlatively, the creative variety this disposition generates is an end in itself. And, again correlatively, her unsurpassable enjoyment of what her dispositional essence creatively produces is an end in itself. It is all beautiful, and is, as such, its own reason for being. And if Whitehead and Hartshorne are correct about this, we are all something like this ideal artist in every action we perform—and so is God.
Our distinction between the “subjective intensity” and “objective expression,” between the enjoyment of beauty which admits of a zenith, and the expression of beauty which does not, shall play an extremely crucial role in our reconstruction of Harshorne’s view of God. Along with our previous modifications of Hartshorne’s view of what is and is not a priori, this modification of Hartshorne’s system allows us to conceive of God as essentially constituted by an unsurpassable aesthetic experience of God’s own self-relationality. Like our ideal artist, we shall, on the basis of this distinction, argue that God is best conceived of as being at once unsurpassable in God’s definitional aesthetic disposition and actual eternal enjoyment of what this disposition produces within Godself, and yet as being essentially (though not necessarily) interested in, appreciate of, and involved in the creation, preservation, and ultimate salvation of the non-divine world. For this world, we shall argue, is destined to express ad extra, the eternal beauty and joy which characterizes the triune beauty of God ad intra.
We shall, in short, utilize the modification of Hartshorne’s foundational statements, combined with his theistic arguments, to arrive at a view of God which accomplishes what the classical view of God as actus purus accomplished—seeing God as self-sufficient, and thus creation and salvation as acts of grace—while yet avoiding the logical fallacies of the classical view and articulating a view of God which is, like the Process view, in accord with the dynamic categories of modernity.
Then again in Ch 6 (on “Moral and Aesthetic Arguments”), Greg writes:
If God is, as the theistic arguments all attempt to demonstrate, a being “greater than which none other can be conceived,” and if, as Hartshorne has argued, beauty is inherent in the idea of existence itself, then the unsurpassable reality of God must be an unsurpassable experience of beauty. What this means for the supposition that the unsurpassable reality is internally related and self-sufficient is that a) this internal relationality must be most fundamentally defined as an experience of beauty, and b) this experience of beauty must be utterly unsurpassable.
Yet, if God is to be genuinely related to the creation, this beauty must not be “closed in” upon itself. It must be encompassing of the world’s contingent beauty, and thus must be itself contingent in some respects. How then is the world not eternal? And how is God’s beauty not increased by God’s experience of the world?
Our previously argued distinction between the intensity of an aesthetic experience and the quantity of contrasts synthesized in an aesthetic experience renders these implications intelligible and explains their concomitant difficulties. God’s essential and necessary existence is, on this scheme, most basically defined by the unsurpassable intensity of aesthetic enjoyment which characterizes the triune sociality of God. God experiences Godself with an intensity which can under no circumstances conceivably be improved upon. As with Hartshorne, we are here most fundamentally defining God’s transcendence in terms of God’s aesthetic satisfaction.
But against Hartshorne we are also affirming that this aesthetic satisfaction is the same whether or not there is a non-divine world for God to enjoy. God is no “greater” for fellowshipping with the world, for it is God’s fellowship with Godself, not the world, which constitutes and characterizes the necessary unsurpassability of God’s aesthetic satisfaction. God’s gracious fellowship with the non-divine world simply expresses this primordial eternal fellowship.
To use Whitehead’s terminology, it is the “perfection of Subjective Form” defined in terms of “strength” (viz., intensity) which defines God as God ad intra. It is this qualitative category which expresses the necessary perfection of God. But, pace Whitehead, this God-defining intensity is not dependent on the “comparative magnitude” or “massiveness” of what is experienced. It is only Hartshorne’s (and Whitehead’s) insistence that the “perfection” of God must be defined quantitatively— which is itself derivative from their theory of aesthetic satisfaction—which prevents Hartshorne from seeing God’s aesthetic self-definition as being absolute in the same sense as is God’s ethical self-definition.
Once the necessary actuality and aesthetic perfection of God is understood in qualitative terms—once the “subjective form” of God is understood as the necessary unsurpassable intensity of an internally related sociality—the absoluteness and self-sufficiency of God can be asserted apart from any non-divine world. Does this then mean that the multiplicity of the non-divine world which God experiences means nothing to God? We have already seen that this does not follow. It is only Hartshorne’s belief that “intensity” and “massiveness” are necessarily correlated which leads him to suppose that (say) a work of art must be constitutive of an artist’s experience for the work to be genuinely related to, and significant to, that artist. Hence, too, the world, in his view, must be a constituent of God for the world to “matter” to God.
In contrast to this, however, we have maintained that a work of art can be significant to an artist not as a constituent of the artist’s experience, but as an expression of it. If the artist, under ideal conditions, has attained a zenith of his or her ability to intensely experience beauty, then it is as an expression of aesthetic intensity that the work will be experienced. The work cannot constitute an increase in the intensity of the hypothetical artist: it rather constitutes the occasion for the expression of the unsurpassable intensity which is already present.
So we may, I believe, conceive of God’s relationship to the world. Since God has freely chosen to actualize God’s potentiality to be Creator of a non-divine world, God can create and appreciate the aesthetic value (and hence the moral value) of a non-divine world. The world becomes part of God’s concrete contingent experience, and is, in this sense, constitutive of God. To this extent we side with Hartshorne over and against the classical tradition.
But, we further hold, this God-defining zenith of aesthetic intensity has been constituted in the triune sociality of God from eternity. This is necessary, and as such it is neither increased nor diminished by the contingent and temporal affairs of the world. Rather, God’s experience of the contingent world—indeed, the entirety of God’s “contingent pole”—serves to express the eternal divine intensity of God’s triune self-experience.
Hence, God enjoys the world—the world “means something” to God—not as an essential element in God’s necessary self-constitution, but as an expression of God’s self-constitution. The world provides a new occasion for the unsurpassable beauty of God, defined in terms of divine intensity, to be expressed and in a sense “repeated” in a novel form.
The entire process of the contingent, temporal order, then, can be said to be constituted by God’s aim at expressing Godself—the infinite delight of the triune sociality—ad extra. Since God’s deity-defining intensity of aesthetic satisfaction is infinite, the potential for expressing this delightful beauty is inexhaustible.
Hartshorne rightly argues that the possibilities for finite harmonies have no upper limit. But the endlessness of these possibilities does not necessitate the endless increase of the intensity of God’s self-defining experience: it rather necessitates the inexhaustible richness of the contingent ways in which God can express this One’s unsurpassing intensity. An eternity of progress shall not exhaust it.
Does this view that God is eternally and unsurpassably “satisfied” within God’s eternal triune sociality imply that God does not partake in the suffering of the world? Is the portrait of God we have here painted a view of God as insensitively independent in God’s own self-contentment? If God’s self-experience is unsurpassably intense, regardless of the state of the world’s state of affairs, is not the “virtuous mutability” of God undermined? Are we not back in the position of God as actus purus? I do not believe so.
In chapter IV, we utilized the analogy of an experiential subject who was composed of actual occasions with differing “specious presents” to argue that a subject—viz., God—could be both actually necessary and actually contingent in differing respects. Against Process thought, God’s absoluteness need not be only abstract. And against the classical tradition, it being perfect and actual need not rule out it also having contingent elements. We may now expand upon this in addressing this present issue of the relationship between God’s eternal satisfaction and temporal suffering.
There is, it seems, no contradiction in maintaining that a being can be self-content on one level, and yet suffer at another. For example, a person need not sacrifice their self-love, their contentment with who they are, their own internal “fullness of life” in order to genuinely enter into the sufferings of another. Indeed, it seems that the person who enters into the sufferings of others with a sense of internal fullness is in a better position to genuinely enter into these sufferings than one who lacks such “fullness.”
To speak more specifically, a person who suffers for another because she needs the other—e.g., needs this other to make her “feel good” about herself, to feel loved and needed, etc.—is more inclined to yet have herself as the object of concern, and thus more inclined to be, to that extent, shut off to the real needs of the other. In contrast, one who enters into solidarity with a sufferer but who is self-content, who loves herself, who possesses an internal fullness which is not destroyed by the suffering, is free to have the sufferer as the sole object of her concern. She is free, in a sense, to “forget herself” in devotion to another.
In the case of the former person, one who “needs” the other to arrive at her self-love, the act of entering into solidarity with a sufferer is an expression of her deficiency. In the case of the latter person however, the act of entering into solidarity with a sufferer is an expression of her wholeness. And the more whole she is, the more perfectly she can suffer with and for the other.
There are, of course, millions of humans who hold to a superficial form of self-contentment to the exclusion of, or even at the expense of, others’ happiness. In fact, the instances of an opposite disposition are unfortunately rare. The prevalence of this attitude, especially in first world countries, is no doubt one of the reasons why we have such difficulty in seeing God as being both eternally self-satisfied and also temporally self-abased. But, as we have argued, there is no necessary connection between self-contentment and insensitivity.
We may, then, conceive of God as one who is both unsurpassably self-content in God’s essential sociality, while being, at the same time, fully incarnated in the sin and suffering of the world in God’s expressive sociality. Indeed, implied in what we have argued thus far is the supposition that God is free to enter into and redeem the sufferings of the world fully precisely because God is eternally self-sufficient within Godself.
Greg’s distinction between “subjective intensity” and “objective expression” of an aesthetic satisfaction is interesting. I understand what’s being said. I may need more time to appreciate it. I have a few ideas that make it plausible to me, but I’ll leave it there for now and invite Dwayne and others to comment on the distinction.