The immorality of impassibility—Part 4

grief

I wasn’t planning on a Part 4, but a last re-read of Sirvent’s ch. 6 (“The Immorality of Impassibility”) brought some things to mind that I thought relevant to his thesis.

(1) Sirvent rejects Chalcedon, and this rejection is central to his thesis. That pretty much kills his thesis for me, though I suppose it poses no problems for most others. He describes the “danger of uncritically subscribing to Chalcedon,” a creed he considers to be a “mistake” from “bygone eras.” He writes:

Perhaps “mistake” is too harsh a word, for the creed probably reflected the best wisdom of its time. And perhaps it even reflected the best wisdom of the subsequent fifteen centuries of Christian theology. But this is not to say that it reflects the best wisdom of today. My goal in this book has been to explore how modern understandings of morality may clue us in to God’s moral nature. The danger in uncritically subscribing to Chalcedon is twofold: (1) we reject centuries of theological and philosophical progress that has been made since then, and (2) as a result, we bind ourselves to the worldview of bygone eras, not to mention their political and religious goals for establishing the doctrine. Moreover, the fact that Chalcedon was considered orthodoxy for fifteen centuries does not speak to its theological validity as much as it speaks to the authoritative nature of those creeds back then. Indeed, dissenters did not have the luxury of an amendment process like the one found in the United States Constitution.

This seems bad thinking for couple of reasons:

  • First, it’s dangerous to “uncriticially” subscribe to any view. Sirvent must think belief in Chalcedon possible today only for those who subscribe to it uncriticially (which is not a possible adjective for the thinking that went into Chalcedon).
  • But, secondly, it’s possible today to critically subscribe to Chalcedon, i.e., to subscribe to it in conversation with modern modes of thought, through historical-critical tools and studies, and in the light of moral seriousness.
  • Third, it’s true that Chalcedonians today reject some of the theological and much philosophical work from the past fifteen centuries (though especially post-Enlightenment ‘progress’). But they have not ignored these or uncritically denied contemporary concerns. Look, it’s no less true that Whitehead rejected fifteen centuries of theological and philosophical progress to forge a truly novel worldview, but nobody dismisses Whitehead on account of the mere fact that he rejected centuries of progress.

So I’m having difficulty taking Sirvent’s criticism of Chalcedon seriously. Criticize it, by all means. But don’t dismiss it—what’s the word?—uncriticially. Can a Chalcedonian converse competently with modern quantum science, the evolutionary origins of life, the insights of psychiatry and psychology, the realities of life which the social sciences shed light upon, developmental psychology, the essential connectedness of all things? Most certainly, yes.

(2) Sirvent brings up Marilyn McCord Adams. We’ve reviewed her here to some extent. She’s hardly a strong passibilist in a Moltmannian sense. She’s not a kenoticist for example, and she admits the Son/Logos enjoys a transcendent mode of triune existence not interrupted by or reduced to the Incarnation. She’s not a traditional impassibilist by any means, but I wonder if the measured, carefully worded sense in which she views the divine nature as passible would leave Sirvent feeling like it was too little, that her approach was, if not morally bankrupt, at least in the red. For example, she writes:

…even if Divinity is mutable and passible, the Divine Perfections in Their Divine nature are not vulnerable to horrors. For God to share horrors, God has to become the kind of thing that can be radically vulnerable to horrors. And this will require a finite range of consciousness with limited powers to cope. (emphasis mine)

On the one hand “Divinity is mutable and passible.” That would rule out her being an impassibilist in any traditional sense of the word, granted. But on the other hand “the divine perfections in their divine nature are not vulnerable to horrors.” Interesting to say the least. In embracing this finite range of consciousness via Incarnation, the Logos does not abandon the infinite range of his divine consciousness. Adams is Chalcedonian, yet Sirvent quotes her in support of his dismissal of Chalcedon. See Parts 7-10 of our review of her.

(3) Let’s take the qualified passibilist view of open theist Christian Philosopher Alan Rhoda into consideration. Alan and we have discussed this at some length. He suggests a version of passibilism in which God’s omniscience and beatitude so contextualize created suffering’s effect upon him that the effect is likely best described as “infinitesimal,” a “drop in an infinite ocean.” Here we have a truly passibilist view of God (passibilist on Sirvent’s view) which Sirvent I suspect would feel was every bit as morally bankrupt as impassibilism classically understood. In Alan’s view God is truly affected, genuinely vulnerable, but infinitesimally so. Such small suffering wouldn’t be enough on Sirvent’s view, I don’t think. I certainly know other passibilists for whom it would not be enough. An infinitesimal divine pain would not be sufficient comfort to sustain human sufferers in their pain, nor would it be enough to motivate God to act on our behalf. After all, on a passibilist construal of morality, it is pain that moves us (and God) to act in love for the good of others. If our suffering manufactures merely infinitesimal pain in God, that would not account for the great lengths to which God goes in loving us. There must be a great deal of pain moving God to act as he does, a pain commensurate with the depths to which the Incarnation brings God into our state.

Given Sirvent’s line of argument, I suspect, he feels God has to hurt—a lot. How much? Who can say? Explanations I run into suggest that because God is infinite and not at all selfish, he should feel our pain on a scale comparable to his infinite capacities. Thus, the effect of our pain in God would be immeasurably more than our capacities are able to process. Though I don’t see that he discusses how the ‘extent’ or ‘depth’ of experienced pain in response to others makes our responses “worth imitating,” I think the morality at work in Sirvent’s thesis assumes something along this line of reasoning. We’re lifted out of our pain by the assurance that God feels our pain to an immeasurable (not an infinitesimal) degree. So passibilism per se is not enough; even Alan’s view is morally bankrupt. We require a divine nature wracked with pain.

3

Now that is equanimity!

(4) Sirvent seems to believe God’s perfections and fullness are achieved dialectically within creation. This seems to be where passibilist theologies lead. What sort of transcendence will a passibilist univocalism permit? Only a transcendence of quantity, it seems. There’s always immeasurably more of what we’ve univocally possessed; always more, yes, but more of the same one thing which language has categorically encompassed. I suggest some posts in Part 3 where we explore these questions.

What’s new with Sirvent’s book that’s interesting is the claim that alternative views of God are all morally bankrupt. But I ask, what recent “theological and philosophical progress” does Sirvent have in mind that makes the positing of an absolute, necessary, essentially relational and existentially full and undiminished ground of all being obsolete and mistaken? The diliverances of our post-Enlightenment moral understanding? How so? By midway through the 20th century humanity by in large had become the most relationally fragmented, selfishly indulgent, accomplishedly violent, morally vacuous, culturally vicious and narcissist version of our species ever to appear on the planet. But our moral reasoning and intuitions are superior to ancient Christians because we moderns are better informed and enlightened?

Prayer: Lord, I long for your appearing. There are things I’d still like to see and do, but tonight wouldn’t be too soon to welcome your appearing. As it is, I see you in all things, and I long to see all things shine with you as you intend. Come soon!

Advertisements

16 comments on “The immorality of impassibility—Part 4

  1. Awesome set of posts Tom. I am currently reading Norris Clarke (have you read him?) and he writes something that gets at the whole passibility/impassibility problem. He makes the distinction between God’s inner mode of being, which is impassible, and his relational consciousness to creation, which changes, and comments that one can have differing states of relational consciousness without being ESSENTIALLY changed.

    “When I distinguished the relational and intentional aspect of the divine consciousness from the intrinsic real perfection of God in Himself, saying that the latter did not undergo a strict Aristotelian type of change, I was careful to define the kind of change I was denying as the moving to a QUALITATIVELY HIGHER level of inner perfection that God had before. This would be impossible because of His eternal infinite fullness of being in the qualitative order of intensity or degree. But it does not deny that God’s inner being is GENUINELY AFFECTED, not in an ascending or descending way, but in a truly real, personal, conscious, relational way by His relations with us.”

    Do you find this thought an insight into the problem?

    Like

    • Tom says:

      Heck yes! I haven’t read him, but I will now. What work of his are you referring to? I’ve seen (but haven’t read) his The One and the Many and then Person and Being.

      Like

      • I’m referring to his The Philosophical Approach to God, which is one of his earlier works (written in the 70s I think.) What is so interesting about the book is that Clarke is a Thomist, but yet he calls for dropping the traditional idea that God is not really related to the world. I think you’d be particularly interested in the book too Tom because Clarke directly engages with Whitehead and process theology. He even says that a process view of God, as it involves him really relating to creatures in time, is one possible doctrinally sound position! His sections on the divine simplicity are also outstanding. Too often the doctrine of simplicity gets overlooked in the process vs classical debate, which is ashame since it is just as relevant as impassibility.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Tom says:

        Definitely picking it up. Thanks Malcolm!

        Liked by 1 person

      • Tom says:

        I understand Clarke espouses the ‘open view’. So say John Sanders and other open theists in the know. Interesting.

        Like

      • Tom says:

        Ran into a few of his articles here.

        Now that I’m poking around, a see a few old notes I scratched out telling myself to find and read Clarke. Dang. Never got around to it.

        Tom

        Like

      • This essay is awesome in particular: http://www.anthonyflood.com/clarkereceptivitypureact.htm

        I’d be interested in where Sanders and other Open Theists heard that Clarke himself was an Open Theist. Do you have any references?

        Like

      • Tom says:

        I haven’t read him, so I can’t claim to know. But Clarke shows up in various lists of supporters of an open view. Sanders, Greg (pro) and even Gannon Murphy (anti) refer to his chapter “A New Look at the Immutability of God” in God Knowable and Unknowable, ed. Robert J. Roth (Fordham University Press, 1973).

        Liked by 1 person

      • Tom says:

        Do you have the 2nd edition of Philosophical Approach? In the chapter (pp. 131-159) “God’s Real Relatedness to the World, Mutability, and Enrichment by the World (pp. 131-150)” he writes:

        In this chapter I shall deal with the questions of God’s relatedness to the world, His mutability, and the resulting finitude of His “consequent nature” (according to Whitehead), since all three are inextricably linked. This chapter is an expansion of my previous paper, “A New Look at the Immutability of God,” published in 1972. Continued reflection and discussion with Process thinkers on these problems have led me to a partial rethinking of some of my earlier positions, and on one of them in particular—namely, the real relatedness of God to the world.

        I don’t have the book yet (ordered it). Is there anything in that chapter re: foreknowledge?

        Tom

        Like

      • I don’t have the second edition, but he does have a section titled “God as changing in time.” Without the risk of butchering and misrepresenting what he says, I won’t sum up his position. But he does say, “Granted the above, that a non-temporal view of the divine relational consciousness is ONE viable metaphysical option which we should be willing at least to tolerate, let me now go on to say that I think it is also possible to adopt a version of the process view of God as changing as AN orthodox Christian view – though not a traditional one – and one acceptable even to a creative Neo-Thomist like myself. Change is repugnant to God only if it involves some imperfection in God’s real being, some lack of perfection in God’s inner plenitude. But if change is restricted to the relational dimension of God’s consciousness, we can rethink the concept of change so that it is seen to involve no imperfection at all. The giving and receiving in a mutual relation of interpersonal love is not an imperfection FOR A PERSON, but an integral part of the very perfection proper to a person, as we understand this theoretically so much more fully than the Greeks. Hence it is quite possible, it seems to me – without compromising any really essential Thomistic principles – simply to give up the whole so often sterile battle over change in God and simply say that some kind of both mutability and immutability are appropriate to a perfect person and some are not.”

        He right then into the next paragraph where he talks about the fact that God’s “time” is of an incomprehensibly different modality than ours, mainly due to the fact that all the different conscious relations that God has with each creature in time would themselves require some higher dimensional mode of being in order to synthesize or unify. He ends the section on God and time thusly: “To sum up: let us leave BOTH OPTIONS open for describing the relational consciousness of God: either as a time-transcending eternal Now of pure presence, or as involved in His own unique mode of time-succession correlated with ours.”

        Like

      • Tom says:

        Thank you Malcolm. I’ll definitely be digesting Norris in the near future.

        Like

      • But to address your PARTICULAR question about foreknowledge: no, he doesn’t speak to God’s foreknowledge at all that I have read.

        Like

      • Tom says:

        Check this out. You can read the whole 2nd edition online…and download it!

        http://fordham.bepress.com/philos/4/

        Tom

        Liked by 1 person

      • Thanks for the link! And wow! He (unfortunately) deleted the very quotes I gave you from the second edition! Perusing through he he obviously came to adopt the more traditional view of God existing in an eternal Now.

        Yet Clarke really does allows us to attach his Thomistic metaphysics without contradiction to an open view of God. God DOES have, even on an open view, a unique “eternal” Now of presence in that time itself does not move him towards becoming itself, and in which he somehow contains in unity all his myriad conscious relations with his creatures. Change and “time” is simply God’s continued interaction and engagement with us, which necessarily requires sequence in himself, rather than a sequenceless “now” void of change. I think we can take Clarke’s idea of the eternal Now, and put it in a state of becoming ITSELF (self-imposed becoming), and still affirm all his positive points about God over and against process theism (e.g. creation ex nihilo.)

        Liked by 1 person

      • Tom says:

        When you publish all that, let me know! 😛 It would still involve some significant moves even given Clarke’s concessions. Once you go ‘Eternal Now’ (in his sense) for reasons that rest (as far as I can see) upon “mystery,” you’re position is unfalsifiable. No objection to it can gain any ground since mystery only fortifies it.

        Like

  2. Also Tom, you may be interested in a post I made on my blog today about causal loops and God’s eternal now.

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s