There is a problem that derives from a seemingly inherent dualism with respect to our thoughts about the divine. This paradox is generated by the tension between the contrary notions of immanence and transcendence. The immanent deity is the divine being or force, which manifests itself here in our world, and the transcendent deity is that which is beyond this world”?outside the whole of our space and time. We can recognize that this distinction causes us to believe in a contradiction; that is, if our beliefs are directed towards a divine entity that acts in this world, and yet, is somehow beyond anything that is found in this world, then we hold that the divine is in the universe, and that the divine is not in the universe. Many theological notions, proofs, and problems appear to rest on this fundamental contradiction which is captured in the notation of symbolic logic as A & ~A (a statement represented by “?A’ in conjunction with its denial”?pronounced “A and not A”)”?a logical untruth, an impossibility, an enigma to reason. We will take a quick look at two perspectives regarding this absurdity, and then we will see if there is a way in which such a notion can begin to make some sense to us.
In a selection from Wittgenstein’s Tractatus (SEE: http://www.ammonius.org/pdf/ComingtoUnderstanding.pdf) he asserts that what is mystical (in other words, divine) can not, “:lie in the world.” He says that, “:all happening and being-so is accidental” (52). Here we see that Wittgenstein has adopted the notion that the world and its inhabitants are the result of a natural process; that is, the things in the world exist by chance. He claims that what is responsible for existence is not found in this ongoing process of happenstance, for, “What makes [being] non-accidental [i.e., the divine] cannot lie in the world, for otherwise this would again be accidental” (ibid.). In other words, the divine is greater than our mere universe. On Wittgenstein’s reasoning, we see that the creator of the universe (a notion associated with several deities) must be transcendent of the world. However, such a conclusion is what required Wittgenstein to close his work with the statement: “Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent” (55). He is saying that, due to the fact that what is mystical is beyond our world, we are unable to make any coherent statements regarding what such a thing may or may not be. We can agree to this because if we think about the notion of a deity existing beyond everything we can know and experience, then we realize that we could never have the words to describe the experience of such an entity. For Wittgenstein, the A of our A & ~A is the statements we can make about the world we find ourselves in. The ~A, then, would be all those statements which concern things transcendent of our world.
We see that Augustine of Hippo, in a certain sense, wrestled with a similar conclusion. In accordance with the idea that we are unable to adequately capture the divine with any words due to the fact that God is transcendent of this world Augustine asks, “What has anyone achieved in words when he speaks about you?” (SEE: http://enteuxis.org/nathan/portfolio/writing/fall98/confessions_reflections.html) He asks this because he recognizes that, as mere mortals, nothing that we can say will adequately represent that which is eternal and beyond our comprehension. This is affirmed by his confession that, “My conception of [God] was a lie, not truth, the figments of my misery, not the permanent solidity of [His] supreme bliss” (ibid.). However, only a few passages earlier Augustine uses a whole paragraph to describe his conception of God. His description is filled with several occurrences of our contradiction, A & ~A. God is, “:wrathful and remain tranquil,” while He, “:will a change without any change,” as He is, “:always active, always in repose” (141). We see from this that Augustine had concepts by which he attempted to understand the divine, and that he recognized that all of his notions about God did not actually describe what the divine was. In this sense, we see that it is fitting that many of his ideas have the structure of A & ~A: in Augustine’s thoughts on the transcendent, we find that he had to have some conception of God in order to contemplate the divine (our A) and at the same time such notions are unable to represent the transcendent at all (our ~A). It appears that to better understand the divine we need some way of reconciling the paradox represented by A & ~A.
In, “The Metaphorical Process, Paul Recoeur suggests a way of dealing with this apparent conflict of interest (SEE: http://capo.org/premise/95/sep/p950812.html). His view is that we regard as metaphors the language intended to pick out the divine as its reference, where, “:the metaphorical statement obtains its meaning [in] absurdity” (312). Through the juxtaposition of seemingly unrelated notions a, “Metaphorical interpretation consists in transforming a self defeating, sudden contradiction [our A & ~A] into a meaningful contradiction” (ibid.). Through the reconciliation of contradiction we find that metaphors create new meaning. We can see that if we attempt to think about the divine, then we need to have a way of harnessing the tension found between the immanent and the transcendent: we need to come to terms with the role that absurdity plays in generating our world. We must come to accept the force represented by A & ~A. For, as Ricoeur says, “:metaphorical interpretation gives rise to a re-interpretation of reality itself” (317). We realize that to re-interpret reality is to alter the way in which we relate to the world, and it is through relations that our world is created and maintained; thus, our expanding experience of the previously unknowable through an understanding of the tension between opposites leads to the empowerment to change the world. This last (empowerment) is often associated with the personal experience of the divine as immanent in our world.
We have seen that our notions regarding the divine take on the appearance of a contradiction due to the inherent duality between the immanent and the transcendent. We can appreciate that the impossibility suggested by such tension and represented by the notation of A & ~A has caused humanity much perplexity; however, we find that there are ways of attempting to bridge the divide of this sharp dichotomy. It appears that it is through meaningful absurdity that we gain a voice able to speak about that which we can say nothing at all.
All references in this paper are from the reading package prepared by B. Moran for Philosophy 331 at the University of Calgary, Spring Semester, 2001. The package was printed by the University of Calgary Bookstore and Printing Services. The page numbers of the references correspond to the page numbers in the original works.
b.e. hydomako is not sure whether his parents were human, and sometimes feels that the sun and the moon are his father and mother respectively (or vice-versa). He doesn’t have a belly button, and the operation to remove the alien implants is forthcoming. Sometimes he thinks that the world is a projection of some malfunctioning machine.