Sunday, 18 August 2013

Not X but Y

Though I'm not a mathematician I'm a lover of mathematical ideas; though I'm not a philosopher I'm a lover of philosophical ideas; though I could not rightly claim that I'm a talented musician I'm a lover of music; though I'm not a religious nor even a saintly person I'm a lover of Christ and the spiritual/ethical insights of the prophets as written in the Tanakh (the "old testament").

Though I'm neither assimilated nor of European descent, I consider all human achievements of the Western world my own heritage (as much as my own cultural heritage) documented and preserved and being expanded for my edification and general benefit. Everything from Aesop's fables to the American Constitution...these are things that bring eudemonia and ideals/principles for me to strive for. In fact, I consider myself a culmination/product of Inuit, Judeo-Christian and Western synthesis. I'm proud of being born an Inuk (singl. of Inuit), and am a great lover of my language and cultural/social insights.

As a Christian apologist I am no defender of human history and find much of the so-called fundamentalist attitude of every stripe tending to the simple, the lazy and the utterly unsatisfying.

When I started focussing on philosophy I was deeply impressed with Spinoza's format of first presenting a proposition then walking through a reasoned argument to support his propositions. In fact, I wanted a similar format for the presentation of Inuit Qaujimajangit (Inuit Knowledge or IQ) principles but ultimately decided against it for the simple virtue that such a presentation might be interpreted in the end as precluding input from my fellow Inuit, and I didn't want that especially for Inuit (past, present and future) who are more capable and knowledgeable than I. I wanted the discourse on IQ to be organic and democratic.

One of the Christian preachers I enjoy listening to, Charles Price, writes in today's devotional (

There is a well-known argument that says God cannot be both sovereign and loving at the same time for the reason that if He is loving and all-powerful, then the very existence of suffering and tragedy indicates that He is not loving. And if God is loving, then He’s obviously not sovereign, because He seems unable to overcome all the evil and suffering in this world. So what is meant by the sovereignty of God?

1 John 5:19 says, “We know that we are children of God and that the whole world is under the control of the evil one.” Three times Jesus spoke of Satan as ‘the prince of this world’ and the Bible tells again and again of people acting in disobedience and rebellion against God. The difficulty is that if God rules sovereignly over our disobedience and sovereignly rules His judgment for our disobedience, what does that say about the integrity of God? It’s a problematic position, but God is never the author of evil and, in His sovereignty, created human beings with a free will.

Using Spinoza's approach, we could state first the principle of "free will" to Price's wonderful devotional above and proceed from there to one of Spinoza's more controversial arguments that make people question whether he was an atheist, pantheist or heretic, and "prove" the transcendent nature of God:

Encapsulated at the start in his Treatise on the Improvement of the Understanding (Tractatus de intellectus emendatione) is the core of Spinoza's ethical philosophy, what he held to be the true and final good. Spinoza held good and evil to be relative concepts, claiming that nothing is intrinsically good or bad except relative to a particularity. Things that had classically been seen as good or evil, Spinoza argued, were simply good or bad for humans. Spinoza believes in a deterministic universe in which "All things in nature proceed from certain [definite] necessity and with the utmost perfection." Nothing happens by chance in Spinoza's world, and nothing is contingent. (

It is the "utmost perfection" of God's Creation and the relativity of "good" and "evil" that I want to focus on here. Given the utmost perfection of Creation, God's transcendence is assured and the relativity of good and evil "proves" His sovereignty and the notion of our free will at the same time. The utmost perfection of Creation and our choices that generate either good or evil results implies that the "prince of this world" (ie, Satan) himself may have free reign on the physical realm but he is not himself the source of it but is only a "creature" like us free to use the created world for good or ill and subject to the divine judgement precisely because of that free will.

Since the consequences of our own actions result in both/either good and/or bad, ethics become an important principle to address these consequences. Since we are created in the image of God we are ultimately responsible for the free choices we make "relative to the particularity" of our choices (and understanding) - and why the necessity of our Saviour and divine grace and mercy that personify Him are utterly important for the sheer immensity of the weight of being ultimately responsibility for our actions and choices.

The Creator-creation-us relationship is in the same fashion that our technology is neither good nor bad (by nature) and requires something else to be realized: namely, our ethics and reflection. The use of guns in our culture has been a real blessing but only insofar as we have chosen to use the technology using our cultural values and attitudes towards nature. Inuit realized long ago that the Arctic environment necessitates our "diet of souls", and the best of Inuit culture/mindset is really about an un-pre-determined lesson in ethical behaviour/relationship with what nature has to offer us.

This mindset, like our relationship with God and Jesus, is a fragile thing indeed - and not because the divine is flawed but we ourselves are necessarily flawed in our limited understanding of the consequences of how we go about addressing our needs. It is - at its core - a power relationship, and like all power relationships, requiring our personal deliberation and examination of our ethical choices and methods to be a just and merciful one.

To close this off I want to quote again the Wikipedia entry on Spinoza:

Given Spinoza's insistence on a completely ordered world where "necessity" reigns, Good and Evil have no absolute meaning. The world as it exists looks imperfect only because of our limited perception.


No comments:

Post a Comment