Tuesday, June 19, 2012

The Argument from Unselfish Love

We are now in the position to draw a very important conclusion about the way God and the world are related. I frame this as 'the Argument from (Unselfish) Love': 

  1. God loves us unselfishly (from Postulate 3), 
  2. Unselfish loves cannot love only themselves, 
  3. Therefore, we must be separate from God in some ways: God is not us

This Argument from Love has a number of important consequences. From an essential aspect of core theism, we see that there must be an irreducible distinctness between us and God. This must be an absolute distinctness, not just an apparent one, because it must be a difference which appears so to God, who presumably sees things as they really are and not just as they appear.

This need for an ‘otherness’ between God and all those loved by God has long been recognized as essential to theism, but it is rarely given a logical justification. It is usually assumed by religious writers that creating independent and freely-choosing humans is a ‘great good’ which justifies many other things. Now we have gone back one step in the logic and can see that there is a reason for some kind of independence. That reason stems directly from the kind of love that God has for us.

Another consequence is that, though God could conceivably create those creatures who are continuous extensions of his divine being, there would be no point in his doing so. God could not love those creatures unselfishly, since they would be entirely part of himself. It may not be that God is lacking in omnipotence, but that there are consequences of the nature of God that directly limit what is good to do. Think how cruel it would be to make a creature who could not be loved by God!

This otherness is dramatically expressed in the writings of many theists, especially those who have had spiritual or mystical experiences. God is like a mighty brilliant sun—it is as if God is brighter by millions than the noon-day sun—and we are minor creatures walking on the face of the earth. Others have described how the numinous sight of God induces fear and trembling, and a feeling of great humility arises from the enormous differences immediately apparent.

To deny this otherness is a serious mistake from the theistic point of view. However often mystics may experience temporary oneness with God, they are still distinct and lovable-by-God creatures, and, as such, they return to their individual consciousness afterwards. Others may want to deny this absolute distinction and want to become ‘as God’. The Judaic bible in Genesis chapter 3 has a story of creatures wanting to become as God. They suffer badly because they want what is impossible.

We see that the Argument from Love has direct consequences concerning the systems of pantheism, nonduality and idealism. The necessity, if love is to function, of a deep division between divinity and us beloved beings is not allowed in pantheism. According to pantheism, we are all and entirely part of God, and that cannot be true if God is to love us unselfishly.

The problem with strict nonduality is even simpler. If God is to love us, we have to exist. This requires that our finite existence have some reality, and that it not be an illusion like maya. It can not be that our soul (Atman) is actually identical with the divine being itself (Brahman), no matter what the sages may have written. There must be some relation between them, but not one of identity.

Adapted from chapter 9 of Starting Science From God.

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