Suffering by Choice

The problem of evil or suffering is often given as a powerful reason to reject the idea of a good and powerful God. The problem of suffering is a significant problem for theism. If God “stands from afar” and watches creatures suffer when God could do something about it does seem to be cruel.

So, I’ll raise the question of who is suffering? In many forms of theism it is we creatures who do the suffering while God (although maybe feeling our suffering) does not literally suffer (God’s impassibility). However, in a divine idealism and aspect monism ontology, it is literally God who is suffering. This is because God literally lives each life in this reality. Here one might think of the stories about the incarnation in Christianity or the avatars in Hinduism. God self-empties (kenosis) and takes on the constraints of life. For instance, in the story of the Cross in Christianity, it is literally God who suffers and dies. There is a powerful truth to this except I think the incarnation should be expanded to include everything in this reality.

However, if God is literally suffering in each aspect of the Divine Life then the question could be why? Since God is the creator, why would God choose to suffer? Let’s take a look at what suffering is about.

As I’ve said in the ontology, I’m characterizing life as constrained being. There is a finitude to life. This means that at some point a certain life will end. From an evolutionary standpoint this promotes change. The old dies away and the new takes its place. Biological systems try to stay alive. If they do then their genes get promoted into the next generation. If they don’t then those genes do not move on. This is the process of selection that has led to life in this world. But since there is a built-in impetus to live, there is also a pain or suffering that, at least partially, is included in this impetus. So there is suffering. If life is constrained being, then suffering is inevitable and necessary for life as a whole to proceed and change (hopefully for the better).

So, God’s choice to suffer is part of choosing for there to be life. No suffering, no life. I think that is part of the choice. However, I think there is also another part.

Let me offer an example. Many people enjoy learning or being creative. However, don’t those endeavors also create suffering. Every creative act entails both creation and destruction. The old dies (to some extent) and the new takes its place. I’m sure anyone who has tried to learn new material, feels the pain involved. There is a struggle and some amount of pain involved. But we do it anyway. Why? Because there is a goal in mind that accepts the momentary pain to reach that goal. The famous mystery writer Dorothy Parker once said “I hate writing, I love having written.” As a writer myself, I have also found this to be true. However, it’s not just the end of the project that is fulfilling but every step along the way has it’s own reward when something is created.

The thing about finite being is that it offers opportunities for things we admire so much. What do we admire so greatly? Love, beauty, courage, resolve, creativity, justice, self-sacrifice, honor, hard work, integrity, etc. All of these would not be possible without some level of risk and suffering. It is the carrying on “in spite of” that we admire so much. I speculate that God admires these things as well and therefore chose to enter finite being and suffer the “slings and arrows of outrageous fortune” because God saw such great worth and value in facing finitude where those admirable traits could become real.

On Focus

I just watched some videos on panpsychism.  Since I affirm a divine idealism, I think panpsychism is a step in the right direction.  However, I think the focus of this approach is too narrow.  By focus, I mean, to use a photographic metaphor, what is in the frame of interest and concern?  There is a tendency towards reductionism in current scientific and philosophical investigations.  So, the “frame” is narrowed down to what might be considered a manageable level.  This can make things easier to deal with but it can also end up being problematic.

I’ve mentioned this before with regard to religious sentiment on the matter of emphasis. If a particular issue is focused on without paying due regard to other issues, then the resulting “solutions” run the risk of being discarded or in need of major modification when confronted with other big-picture problems.  The thing about a systematic approach is that everything needs to be taken into account and fit together coherently and reasonably.  If certain issues are ignored, they will, more than likely, come back to bite.

So, what’s wrong with the panpsychist approach?  First of all, it has such a laser focus on consciousness.  The thinking might go something like this.  Consciousness is such a real problem for the current materialist paradigm so let’s make that fundamental — it’s all consciousness. How this would work in the grand scheme of things isn’t talked about, as far as I’ve seen.  If the issue is subjective experience (phenomenal consciousness) then how does experience fit into the complex causal network that we see?  How do experiences interact? Are there some additional properties at work?  If so then experiences aren’t fundamental.  I think what we’re seeing here is an attempt to solve a problem without including the broader explanatory picture.  The focus is too narrow.

The other problem with this near-sightedness is that is doesn’t take into consideration existential issues.  Now, many of today’s philosophers may shy away from these issues because it’s not fashionable to talk about deep metaphysics.  So they ignore this and just “talk among themselves” in their cloister or avoid these issues in public discussions.  The problem with this is that it eventually comes out.  I saw a Zoom discussion on panpsychism with prominent philosophers where a viewer asked about the practical implications of the view. That question was totally ignored.  Broadening the focus presents major issues to deal with.

So, what existential issues am I talking about? Here are some:

  • Meaning and purpose
  • The problem of evil
  • Teleology
  • Free will
  • Morality

If a philosophy doesn’t address these, then who personally cares?  It would be just some intellectual tempest in a teapot, signifying nothing.

Most people probably can’t assess very well the technical details of a philosophical discussion. They are not educated or trained for that.  They want to know if a particular system seems right (more in an intuitive sense) and how it affects their worldview and way of thinking and living.  If philosophy is just some intellectual exercise without real-world implications, then why bother? I think these explorations can be but they must broaden their focus just as it did in past centuries.

So, what is the alternative to this near-sightedness?  Obviously, from this site, I think a divine idealism is a viable option that addresses both the problem of consciousness and the existential issues I mentioned.  In a divine idealism, where everything is in the divine mind, consciousness seems to fit in seamlessly.  So, what do we know about mind?  We know that minds are complex with both conscious and unconscious processes going on. There is a lot happening with many interactions.  There is intent, choices, morality, meaning and purpose. The full gamut of existential issues are in play within the mind.  If there is a divine mind as the source of all this then our minds are part of that mind and have a share, within limits, of the Divine Mind.  Of course, even with that model, much must be explored but I think, at least it has a broad enough focus to be meaningful.

On Faith

A question came up in the TLDC discussion group about faith. It’s an important question, especially as the pandemic wreaks havoc around the world.  Not only are many people dying but deep economic hardships also threaten the well-being of countless others. It’s a frightening situation.

Naturally, this can be a time to question or be skeptical about the benevolence of God. How could a benevolent God allow this tragedy to happen? It’s a valid question.  Perhaps surprisingly, however, in times of hardship many believers do not reject God but instead, turn to God in prayer and faith.  They have faith in God.  What could this mean?

In short, I think it means a whole person affirmation of God’s benevolence even in the face of personal or global trials. This is not just some cognitive assent. It is a deep conviction that whatever happens, God cares and is involved in every event.  It is also a passionate conviction that there are things more important than personal wellbeing or goals.  There is “something more” going on that is so important that one’s own well-being does not necessarily take precedence.

In theologian Paul Tillich’s “The Courage to Be” he talks about the courage of soldiers.  They are willing to put their lives at risk for something more.  That “more” may be about freedom, nation, or even just their brothers and sisters in the fight.  As they face the gunfire, perhaps with great fear, their passionate commitments still push them onward into harm’s way.  Today, we see this with the health care workers, doctors, police, first responders and so many ordinary people trying to make a difference in spite of their own personal risk.  How can one not be brought to tears at this great courage and sacrifice?

But even without a global crisis, events in “normal” life can be devastating as well. Who has not faced hardships, loss, uncertainty, and pain?   This is part of what it means to live.  Faith says that we have within us a transcendent divine depth that will see us through, even unto death. It also says that our lives, no matter who we are or our situation are part of something profoundly important. Each life matters. Each struggle contributes to and affects the whole. We are part of the Divine Life Communion — a grand narrative created and lived by God. The meaning, both personally and globally, is profound.

It can be difficult to get beyond our own self-interest.  The fear and pain are real. But just like the soldiers and healthcare workers, we can dig deep and find the divine within to become part of the “something more”.  In that probing, we recognize our most profound self.

Then, even with the prospect of death, faith can sustain us.  Who knows what happens after death?  Is it just the end?  Perhaps but perhaps not.  If this reality is a creation in the Mind of God, then what we can be sure of is that who we are and how we lived will be eternal in the Mind of God.  Perhaps we would like to continue living in some fashion. Perhaps we will.  Faith would say that we are okay with whatever God chooses to do or not do with that memory.

On Free Will — Characters Surprise the Author

Is there free will with God as the author of all things?  In my metaphor Author/Story, I mention that although an author creates the general narrative and guides it along, sometimes the narrative takes a surprising turn. Characters seem to have a life of their own and surprise the author with what they do.  I wrote a novel (a techno-thriller) years ago and also found this to be the case.  You think you have the plot in hand but at some point, a character goes off-script.  Huh?  Where did that come from?  What I suggested in the metaphor was that this might represent free will in the grand narrative that God authors. God has an idea of how God would like the narrative to unfold but God also respects the freedom of the characters to influence how things proceed. In fact, God imbues that freedom such that life has meaning but also risk.

Here are some examples of authors supporting the idea that characters do seem to have a life of their own.

Raine ThomasEven though I create detailed character sketches before I write a book, my characters love to surprise me. My character Skye, in the Daughters of Saraqael Trilogy, for example, revealed that she could teleport in the midst of me writing her book, Foretold. That completely took me by surprise, and it took the book in a wonderful new direction!

Scott Bury: Many writers refer to their books as their “babies,” but it seems that the characters are the children—we create them, but then they develop minds of their own and continue to surprise, exasperate and delight us.

My characters surprise me constantly. My characters are like my friends – I can give them advice, but they don’t have to take it. If your characters are real, then they surprise you, just like real people.”

Remember, this is an idealism metaphor but sometimes metaphors point to a deep truth.


Analogies for Idealism

This is a response to an article in Scientific American by Bernardo Kastrup, Adam Crabtree, and Edward F. Kelly, idealism proponents, where they claim that an analogy with dissociation (as Kastrup discusses) like that found in the dissociative identity disorder (DID) can offer a solution to “a critical problem in our current understanding of the nature of reality”.  That problem being the combination problem in panpsychism where the question is, as David Chalmers briefly puts it — “how do the experiences of fundamental physical entities such as quarks and photons combine to yield the familiar sort of human conscious experience that we know and love.”  The authors of the article respond to the problem with an alternative view:

The obvious way around the combination problem is to posit that, although consciousness is indeed fundamental in nature, it isn’t fragmented like matter. The idea is to extend consciousness to the entire fabric of spacetime, as opposed to limiting it to the boundaries of individual subatomic particles. This view—called “cosmopsychism” in modern philosophy, although our preferred formulation of it boils down to what has classically been called “idealism”—is that there is only one, universal, consciousness. The physical universe as a whole is the extrinsic appearance of universal inner life, just as a living brain and body are the extrinsic appearance of a person’s inner life.

However, the authors also recognize a potential problem:

You don’t need to be a philosopher to realize the obvious problem with this idea: people have private, separate fields of experience. We can’t normally read your thoughts and, presumably, neither can you read ours. Moreover, we are not normally aware of what’s going on across the universe and, presumably, neither are you. So, for idealism to be tenable, one must explain—at least in principle—how one universal consciousness gives rise to multiple, private but concurrently conscious centers of cognition, each with a distinct personality and sense of identity.

They think the solution can be found in an analogy with dissociative identity disorder:

And here is where dissociation comes in. We know empirically from DID that consciousness can give rise to many operationally distinct centers of concurrent experience, each with its own personality and sense of identity. Therefore, if something analogous to DID happens at a universal level, the one universal consciousness could, as a result, give rise to many alters with private inner lives like yours and ours. As such, we may all be alters—dissociated personalities—of universal consciousness.

This would seem to satisfy the conceivability requirement in philosophy of mind proposals and suggest some details about what is happening, but at what cost?  There is a negative connotation associated with DID.  It is considered a disorder, perhaps stemming from pathological inabilities to cope with life as a unified personality.  F. C. S. Schiller in his 1906 paper, “Idealism and the Dissociation of Personality” affirms that this analogy does solve some problems for idealism but also recognizes that it carries a negative connotation for the absolute:

Moreover, (2) if the absolute is to include the whole of
a world which contains madness, it is clear that, anyhow, it must, in
a sense, be mad. The appearance, that is, which is judged by us to
be madness must be essential to the absolute’s perfection. All that
the analogy suggested does is to ascribe a somewhat higher degree
of reality to the madness in the absolute

While I appreciate the intent of the dissociative analogy to address a problem, if analogies can offer some credence to idealism, then perhaps there are other real-world analogies that are reasonable but do not carry the negative connotations. So, I’ll offer a couple of analogies here that might also be viable but are positive and affirming for why the diversity in the cosmos came about and do not imply a dysfunction within the Divine Mind. Instead, they imagine a God who embraces taking on constrained being even with all its difficulties and challenges. Given all the problems and evils within life, this must mean there is something so very important and valuable about life itself.

Actor/Role Analogy
It is well known that many actors relish taking on challenging roles. It helps them grow as actors and, perhaps on a personal level, presents unique opportunities to plunge deeper into the human psyche, both theirs and others. So, they research the role, often talk to those whom they will portray, and try to create that role in their mind.  Then in the scenes, they shift gears from their normal selves to that role even if that role is diametrically opposite to their normal self.  They compartmentalize the role within themselves and act within that compartment, but they still have a unitary self, unlike dissociated personalities. Then when the scene is over, they shift back to their normal selves but they may also experience some change because of the experience of “the other self” in the role. This could represent God-as-transcendent, being changed by God-as-living in each aspect of the Divine Life. What this analogy suggests is that God seeks out the challenge of living perhaps because it evokes the most admirable qualities — courage, resolve, grace in the face of adversity, altruistic love, concern for both self and others, progressive action, growth, etc. In other words, God taking on somewhat distinct lives is not out of dysfunction but rather because God saw something so wonderful and valuable about living within constraints.

MMORPGs Analogy
MMORPGs is an acronym for — Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Games.  These are online games where multiple players take on certain character types and play those roles as the game dynamically emerges.  Those roles can vary dramatically just as personalities can. There can be noble, evil, good, childlike, magical, non-human, conflicted, etc. roles, each with its own personality, characteristics, powers, frailties, and histories.  There is also the environment within which the RPG is played. It could be realistic or fanciful. In essence, it is an imagined world with imagined characters that navigate the dynamics of a certain broad narrative.  Each player adopts a role and suspends their own self as much a possible to play that role, often within a team of other role-players. It is a simulation of life with all the intricacies of psychology, sociology, culture, and challenge.  Why do people seek out and participate in these games? Similar to the Actor/Role analogy, because it offers opportunities to embrace the multidimensions of life in an alternate reality that is both fun, interesting, and satisfies our need to be challenged, grow, be social, and reach out beyond the limitations of our ordinary life.

So, what’s the analogy? The analogy is that whereas in online role-playing games there are many separate people playing the roles, in the Divine Life, God is playing all the roles including the role of the environment. Each of us and everything else is an aspect of the Divine Life, created (imagined) in the Mind of God.  We are in God’s unitary mind but also distinct and somewhat independent, living our lives within the grand divine narrative where we also must make choices whether or not to embrace the transcendent divine depth within and actualize the divine vision for how life can be.

Now, the limitations of using analogies toward metaphysics should be recognized.  They come from within our limited, constrained being and, as such, shouldn’t be taken too literally.  Perhaps they can be accepted as metaphors — while of limited literal value perhaps they also point to some deep truths.

Here are some other posts on analogies/metaphors:
Role Play Games
Venn Diagrams
Divine Action and a Juggler

The Evolution of the Divine Life

I have argued here that we shouldn’t think that there is some sort of ultimate culmination of history in a perfect, blissful state.  My view is that the Divine Life is eternally a struggle with the vicissitudes of life, trying to embrace the divine transcendent depth and instantiate that depth in this life.  Also see this essay on The Life of God.

So if there isn’t some eschaton that represents a final “solution” to life, then an interesting question is where is the Divine Life headed?  How is it evolving? Now, the term God is usually associated with terms like “infinite”, “eternal”, or the “omini’s”.  Terms like infinity and eternity stretch our cognition to the limit, boggling our minds.  But they also address the great mystery of life.  So perhaps, while they speak to our cognitive limits, they may be all we have.

If the Divine Life is eternal then God chooses to live eternally.  There must be something very important for God to want to take on the constraints of life to live. Perhaps this shouldn’t seem so strange.  Most people cherish life.  There is something about living, even with all its troubles that we really love.  Even with all the struggles there are times of great joy and fulfillment that seem to make it all worthwhile. Perfection is stagnant and sterile.  It is only in the complex negotiation of life that meaning can find a footing. So, perhaps like us, God finds living so important as well.

So where is the Divine Life headed?  Who knows.  If the purpose of life is the eternal creation of love, beauty, and meaning then who knows what lies ahead. No doubt there will be remarkable times when love, beauty, and meaning appear with great force as they have in the past.  Perhaps they will be somewhat “different” in how they become manifest in the future but also remain part of the ongoing processes of embracing the divine transcendent depth and making it happen in the moment.

There are different theories in science on what the future holds for this universe. It may end in a cold death. It may recycle itself but what we do know is that the earth will eventually perish and if there are inhabitants on it then, they will too.  Other civilizations throughout the universe will probably eventually succumb to a similar fate. Does that mean the Divine Life ends?  Certainly not.  The Life of God is not just about sentient beings.  God lives in everything from the quark, rock, plants, animals, and sentient beings. God’s lives a constrained being in all things.  And one shouldn’t necessarily think that the life of God is constrained only to this universe.  There may be many, many narratives created by God where God lives.  Just as an author may create many stories, with characters, environments, and situations so God may also.  Each will have its own constraints or parameters within which life navigates. Each “character” will have its own constraints and challenges. Each will have its transcendent divine depth to probe as the pull of divine purpose is ever present.

The Divine Life will evolve in ways that are particular to what has come before and the struggle of the divine communion in everything to embrace the divine transcendent depth and make it a reality.  Certainly there will fits and starts in the eternal process to create love, beauty, and meaning but perhaps that is as it should be.  We can be thrilled and excited when those come to fruition and gird our loins when they do not to make it happen again.

Divine Action and a Juggler Metaphor

Sometimes dry philosophical arguments can be hard to understand. That’s why I think metaphors can be helpful even for those who are familiar with metaphysics.  So, here’s another concerning the activity of God (Divine Action) in this world — the juggler.

There is an essay on how reality is constituted here where I argue that science, especially quantum mechanics, has strongly suggested that the way reality is constituted looks more like Mind at work than some sort of physicalist model.  The crucial role of the observer (in the Copenhagen interpretation) says that a conscious mind is inextricably linked to how reality actualizes. And since presumably the universe existed before minds could observe it, then that suggests that there is a universal mind at work. One of the seminal figures in quantum mechanics, Erwin Schrödinger suggested just that. Continue reading

Theism – The Only Viable Option

In this post, I want to argue that the only viable option from a psychological perspective is theism. The argument is based on causation. Without an intentional cause fundamental to reality, the psychological impact is devastating and cannot lead to a healthy personal psychology and rather leads to denial or irrationality.

First a bit of background on causation. Now, this may be a bit lengthy but hopefully it will set things up for my argument.  Also, this won’t be an extensive treatment of these topics and I’ll leave it to the reader to explore further if they are interested.

There is a long history in thought about the idea of causality.  Causation basically means that events (effects) are preceded by causes.   Causes produce effects. This has been a cornerstone for many fields of thought, especially science.  Science requires causes to produce effects because without it there could be no predictions. Continue reading

Tillich’s Missteps

I have a great admiration for the work of Paul Tillich. I consider him one of the greatest modern theologians. However, I do think that Tillich made a misstep in his core ontology that destined his theology to be less than adequate for the 3rd millennium.

Tillich adopts a version of the Greek ontology that dates at least back to Plato. Plato’s allegory of the cave is a good example of this ontology. In this allegory Plato uses the illustration of shadows on the cave wall that are created from eternal forms or ideas but in this world they are distorted. This creates an ontology where there is a “perfect” essence but an imperfect existence to things. Tillich adopts something similar to this where he summarizes the flow of being from essence to existence (and estrangement) to return to the divine ground (essentialization). Continue reading

Temperament and Theology

Theologians all have a given temperament just like anyone else. Should it be any wonder that features of that temperament would be reflected in their theological approach and the ensuing content that emerges. I have often wondered about the psychological dynamics of great thinkers and how it effects what they produce. It is an area that, in my opinion, has been sorely neglected in the history of thought. Although the arguments of these thinkers can be taken on face value, it is often enlightening to see “where they are coming from”. There are exceptions to this neglect. Continue reading