Friday, March 8, 2013

The Top Ten Definitions of God - 5

5. God does not exist. 
—Paul Tillich (1886-1965) Lutheran minister, philosopher and theologian

Also from Tillich:

"The God of theism is dead" 

"God is the symbol for God."

The idea of a rationally constructed theistic God, a being with attributes, was repugnant to Paul Tillich. It's as if Christopher Hitchens got his ideas from the minister's lectures: "God appears as the invincible tyrant, the being in contrast with whom all other beings are without freedom and subjectivity. . . . This is the God Nietzsche said had to be killed. . . . This is the deepest root of atheism. It is an atheism which is justified as the reaction against theological theism and its disturbing implications."

God is not a being, says Tillich. "Therefore to argue that God exists is to deny him." In other words by saying God exists you must mean something exists. However, God, insists Tillich, is not a something. God does not participate in existence as we or any something does. God is also not Being or existence for "existence refers to what is finite . . . and cut off from its true being."

However, the human situation reveals that "an awareness of the infinite is included in man's awareness of finitude." We can sense that existence hints at a reality upon which all else is based.  He maintains that we should "transcend the theistic idea of God" to a conception he calls the "God above the God of theism." Everything is a metaphor for God except, in Tillich's cherished phrase, "the ground of all being." God is not the fact of existence but the basis, the ground, upon which things exist.

He continually insisted that the existence of God is not open to argument, neither can it be proved or disproved. In fact Tillich felt the words "God" and "existence" should never appear together, except to say "God does not exist." So this is no parlor trick where God vanishes, but is brought back in the final reel. Well . . . God sort of comes back, but not as you would expect. God does not exist—period.

Once you understand that God does not exist, then, he says, "The name of the infinite and inexhaustible depth and ground of our being is God. That depth is what the word God means. And if that word has not much meaning for you, translate it, and speak of the depths of your life, of the source of your being, of your ultimate concern. . . . If one could say "life has no depth! Life itself is shallow. Being itself is surface only", then, "if you could say this in complete seriousness, you would be an atheist; but otherwise you are not."

The depth and ground of life points to "ultimate concern". Thus our notion of God is tied to our notion of what we have faith in that concerns us unconditionally. What is life's ultimate concern or meaning? (Obviously, this could be knowledge, or power, or nationalism, or even wealth.) As Tillich says, "It is obvious that such an understanding of the meaning of God make the discussions about the existence or nonexistence of God meaningless. It is meaningless to question the ultimacy of an ultimate concern. . . ." He also says, “Man's ultimate concern must be expressed symbolically, because symbolic language alone is able to express the ultimate.”

Religion, felt Tillich, is both important in the practice of ritual—reminding us in our pursuit of "ultimate concern", but also one of the greatest dangers to religious life because of its rigidity and tendency to suppress the inquiry.

Karen Armstrong has a pertinent line in A History of God: “The only way to show a true respect for God is to act morally while ignoring God’s existence.”

[Link to beginning of article]                    [Link to next part]


Big Myk said...

You danced around this quote but you never flat out said it.

"If you start with the question whether God does or does not exist, you can never reach Him; and if you assert that He does exist, you can reach Him even less than if you assert He does not exist. A God about whose existence or non-existence you can argue is a thing beside others within the universe of existing things.... It is regrettable that scientists believe that they have refuted religion when they rightly have shown that there is no evidence whatsoever for the assumption that such a being exists. Actually, they have not only not refuted religion, but they have done it a considerable service. They have force it to reconsider and to restate the meaning of the tremendous word God."

And this reminds me of the quote from Robert Harvey (I believe that it's from his book When Widows Wince): God is so unlike anything we know or have experienced, that perhaps the truest statement we can make about Him is that He does not exist."

James R said...

Excellent! That must be one of the greatest paragraphs in the history of man, God, science, religion, or literature.

I take nothing away from Bob, but I believe he studied Tillich early in his college career. And enlightened us all for it.