Monday, May 03, 2004

Our loving God is not a solitude (continued)

A JW (Jehovah's Witness) might pursue his anti-trinitarian line of argument by protesting that his point about carrying on an interior discourse with oneself is not that we can know ourselves, as I previously said, "in a primary and immediate way," but rather to suggest that a human subject can also make himself an object of his own thought, thus implying a self-relation. Why could it not be argued, then, that a unipersonal God (that is, a non-trinitarian God) could also make Himself an object by engaging in contemplation? The point could be rendered even more lucid, the JW might argue, by referencing Aristotle's idea of absolute NOUS, or divine intellect, which is defined as thought (subject) thinking thought (object). Aristotle's "god" can thus be called to witness as a being which makes itself simultaneously a subject and an object by thinking itself. Accordingly why could not a unipersonal God (which the JW takes to be the God of the Bible) also think Himself--that is, have a subject-object relationship within Himself--antecedent to contemplating others as alterior objects? Similarly, why could such a unipersonal God not love Himself much in the same way that the god of Aristotle theoretically thinks itself? How might we answer such a challenge?
First, I've always found fascinating subject-object relationships, particularly as Dooyeweerd elaborates them, with all the modal analogies, etc. A cow is a psychic subject but not an aesthetic or religios one, since it doesn't function subjectively within those latter spheres of experience. On the other hand a cow may function as a religious object, as when it is used for purposes of Old Testament religious sacrifice. In another, simpler vein, the hunter (subject) sees the bird (object); the bird (subject) sees the worm (object). Hence one entity can be both subject and object. Thus, despite the protestations of feminists about women being treated as objects (meaning objects of purient lust in pornography, etc.), it nevertheless remains a fact that when her husband is making love to her, a wife is, even while her husband is conscious of her subjectivity, a sexual object.

Second, the question raised above, however, is whether a person can play the roles of subject and object with respect to himself. Aristotle's notion of God as pure form (NOUS: thought thinking thought) is referenced to ask whether a unipersonal God could not love Himself in the same way that Aristotle's God thinks itself. The "itself" here, as opposed to the Christian "Himself," is apropos, since Aristotle's god has no personhood as such, or, for that matter, personality. But there is another problem here with the Aristotelian anology, since what Aristotle's god "thinks" has no content. So even if we are formally correct in saying, as Aristotle does, that his purely formal god "thinks himself," thus serving both in the capacity of subject and object of thought, the end result is the same as if this god had no relationship with itself at all, since there is no content to apprehend or with which to interact in anything resembling a relationship.

What about a unipersonal deity? Such a being would presumably have a content to his personhood, which could be made the object of thinking. On the level of an analogy to temporary human experience, it may seem like self-relationship and self-love is possible. However, as suggested in my previous discussion of this question, our self-knowledge (even our grasp of ourselves as selves) is something that, I believe, occurs only within a matrix of relationships with God, with other persons, and with the world. Thus using our human temporal experience of self-awareness as an index for speculating on a unipersonal deity's self-relationship would seem to beg the question, as it already presupposes our temporal experience within the matrix in question. But what we're concerned with is the question whether a unipersonal deity would have such a self-awareness in the absence of any matrix at all, whether a trinitarian matrix or a matrix of creation. And here we can only speculate.

For a human being, I would think that no self-awareness could be possible without awareness of something other than self. Imagine an infant coming into the world and growing up with absolute sensory deprivation. It's nearly impossible to imagine. But unless one held some sort of altogether non-empiricist epistemology, in which self-knowledge where somehow divinely infused into the human soul, I don't quite see how consciousness could ever become self-consciousness. Speculatively, I would have to wonder the same for a unipersonal God with no matrix for thought.

Would such a deity not turn out to be, in effect, any different from Aristotle's God? Of course, all sorts of complicating considerations enter here, about whether God is temporal or transtemporal, and whether God's act of creation is something that for God exists outside of time or within time, and so forth. But these sorts of considerations usually lead us in directions where our heads are apt to explode.
Another response that a JW could make at this point is to reference Jesus' injunction that we ought to love our neighbors as we love ourselves in order to suggest, not an ontological point about the self, but simply that one cannot love others unless he first loves himself. The apostle Paul appears to construe Jesus' words this way in Eph 5 when he encourages Christian husbands to love their wives as they love themselves. Certainly a man who does not take care of himself physically will more than likely not cherish and care for his mate, will he? Additionally, modern psychology evidently corroborates the view that self-love must precede alterior love; it certainly must obtain if one is going to love others. But not being able to know myself primordially or immediately does not entail that I can't love myself primordially, does it? How should we respond?
I would happily grant everything said in the above paragraph, but with the caveat that all of it already presupposes the earlier-cited matrix or web of interrelationships by which we come to know ourselves. Hence, I would argue that none of the points above can be used to argue for the possibility of self-awareness, let alone self-love, apart from some sort of pre-existing matrix. I think Plato was driven in the direction of accepting the pre-existence of the soul (along with reincarnation) in part because of the epistemological problem of explaining how an intellect could learn without something innate already resident within it to which what is learned could be related (cf. Plato's dialoge, Mino). Not only does an absolute solitude of a being presumably have no basis for self-love or self-knowledge: it would seem to have no basis for learning anything at all.
In turn, the JW might respond that he is not suggesting that the quality of love is developed IN VACUO where humans are concerned. He might argue that it just seems impossible to love others unless one first loves him or herself. Further, he might suggest that, on this view, a unipersonal God have to develop love only by relationship to a subsequent creation. Love could be viewed as God's primal ethical attribute or His essence, even if He were a God in just one Person and not three. There would thus be no difficulty involved in a unipersonal God eternally or everlastingly loving Himself as the supreme object. How should we respond?
I would contend that I have no trouble agreeing with this. I think our ability to love others depends in part on our awareness of existing in an interactive matrix in which we are loved by others.