He seems to think that thinking that God resembles humans to any degree or in any way counts as “anthropomorphism.” I think that’s a goofy use of the term, but why quibble about words? So, in James’s sense, most Christians (and Jews, and Muslims) have had an “anthropomorphic” conception of God. (He refers to people who seem not to know what “metaphor” means – but I digreess.) The Bible, then, is everywhere “anthropomorphic.”
In another post, he asserts that “To say “God did it” is not an explanation.”
Huh? Perhaps he means, “is never a good explanation” or “is never the best explanation,” but of course any of these claims is controversial. On the face of it, e.g. “God killed Ananias” is a perfectly intelligible explanation, and it’s hard to see why in couldn’t, in some circumstances, be the best explanation. Is he assuming some extreme form of empiricism, I wonder?
Like me, Dr. McGrath is a sci-fi geek. Yes, I have been forced by the wife to dress like Spock for Halloween, on the grounds that I closely resemble Spock (in personality). Anyway, could this, conceivably, be an explanation – “Q killed that red-shirt” ? (Yes, I know, I’m mixing series.) It seems to me, obviously yes. But just so in the case of God, even a God who is a spirit (in Stark Trek original series language, “pure energy”) and who lacks any sort of body.
Back to the point at hand. Dr. McGrath says,
…the roots of ancient Israel’s concept of God are most certainly in a being who is a part of the universe, and not Being itself
A intelligent, powerful being who created the whole cosmos, the “heavens and the earth,” need not be part of the cosmos. He could be a being who would exist whether or not there had ever been any cosmos. It’s a mistake to think that either God is Being Itself or else God is a part of the cosmos.
Another point: a god, a very powerful self, with powers to act against what seem to be nature’s normal course, is easy to conceive of. In contrast, “Being itself” is of dubious intelligibility. When I think of all the beings in space and time, to me, they do not seem to be one whole anything. Nor does there some to be some stuff of which all are made. It positively seems possible that there be no things in space and time and all. Were this to be so, would Being Itself still be there? I assume not. If not, then Being Itself would seem to be a contingent and dependent entity. If such a thing existed, it would seem that it’s existence would be explained, if it is explained, by something else.
But even if we grant that “Being Itself” is a meaningful term, it’s not clear why we should believe in such a thing. We can of course consider appeals to mystical experiences, but in the case of (an “anthropomorphic”) God, these will be intelligible reports – there will be understandable content to them. e.g. “It seemed to me that God was not pleased with my trying to practice Klingon religion.” “It seemed to me that Someone made all of this.” Seemingly not, in the case of an alleged perception of a truly ineffable Something. It’s hard then, to see that such reports would have evidential value for anyone but (maybe!) the subject. Philosopher of religion Keith Yandell, by the way, has written elequently on this theme in a couple of places.
What modern theists believe is not what the ancient Israelites prior to the exile believed.
And so the question when it comes to Christian identity is not whether our beliefs match theirs, but whether the overriding trajectory is being followed.
The first part, I think, is true but trivial. I agree that early on, the Hebrews probably thought that YHWH was their god, but one of many peers (other nations had theirs). I also agree that, probably, at an early stage, some Hebrews thought God had a body. But how is this relevant? Such beings are gods, in the sense I defined above. So is a GOD, that is, a perfect being, who is a se, omnipotent, omniscient, omnibenevolent, omnipresent, and so on. Suppose the Israelites really interacted, causally, with a supernatural being. We might interact with the same, though our background assumptions about that being may be somewhat, or even very, different. It seems that we can refer, but a chain of reference, to that same being they called “Elohim” and “Yahweh” and “El” and so on, back then.
About the second part, he seems to think that the core concept of God is a perfect being. I agree with that, and that there’s room to disagree about what this entails. But I note that he thinks we should think of God as moral – that our views about God should be guided by our moral intuitions. I agree. But then, God is a being thought of as a self – only selves can be morally good. (Unless James is speaking as a religious anti-realist…)
I really don’t understand why Dr. McGrath thinks that anything in the Christian “trajectory” points towards either Deism (or near-Deism, i.e. almost no “interventions”) or panentheism. About this latter, he says,
Panentheism typically involves not saying that God is an “it” which would then be less than we are, but that God is a reality whose nature we cannot hope to fathom, but as the ground, source, and encompasser of our existence, is not less than we are.
So, if this God isn’t less than we are, he’s at least a self. Yes? He has knowledge, will, consciousness? Must be a He, not an It (and not neither)?
If so, this is inconsistent with the view I thought we were discussing, which is that no concept of ours literally apply to God. I would not deny that this panentheism is, or can be, a species of monotheism. In fact, the difference between it an non-panentheistic-monotheism may be rather subtle. I’ve heard, e.g. Dallas Willard compare the cosmos to God’s body (he was speaking metaphorically).
I’ll leave things there for now. James – have I misunderstood you somehow here? Want to argue ’bout any of this?
Either way: live long and prosper.