THEOLOGY 101

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Theology 101 is comprehensive…but not complete. Questions remain to be answered, themes need to be further developed. Think of this as an outline…an outline for a theology intended to express the profound truths of orthodox Christianity in language compatible with modern philosophy and contemporary science.

Creation

The Judeo-Christian tradition unmistakably attributes the creation of the universe to God. The opening line of Genesis is unequivocal:

“In the beginning, when God created the heavens and the earth…”

But the process of creation outlined in Genesis is usually misunderstood. Let’s read on:

“In the beginning, when God created the heavens and the earth – and the earth was without form or shape, with darkness over the abyss and a mighty wind sweeping over the waters – Then God said: ‘Let there be light’ and there was light. God saw that the light was good. God then separated the light from the darkness. God called the light ‘day’ and the darkness he called ‘night’. Evening came and morning followed – the first day.”

“Then God said: ‘Let there be a dome in the middle of the waters to separate one body of water from the other. God made the dome and it separated the water below the dome from the water above the dome. And so it happened. God called the dome ‘sky’. Evening came and morning followed – the second day.”

“Then God said: ‘Let the water under the sky be gathered into a single basin so that dry land may appear’…God called the dry land ‘earth’ and basin of water he called ‘sea’…God saw that it was good.” And so forth…

Throughout the first chapter of Genesis, the process of creation is a process of distinction rather than fabrication. The ‘earth’ is ‘without form or shape’; form and shape emerge from a series of ‘separations’ and ‘gatherings’.

The ‘first day’ is the name given to an event defined as ‘evening came and morning followed’. But according to the text, light came first and then, by a process of separation, darkness. So why doesn’t the text read, “morning came and evening followed – the first day”?

Creation does not actually occur until God separates light from darkness. In the context of a world filled with light, creation is still mere potentiality; actuality is distinction. We measure the days of creation, the events that constitute our world, from the separation of darkness from light and not before.

Information theory confirms this insight. It is distinction that creates information. A world without distinction has no information content and a world with no information content is, well, no world at all. Or in the words of Genesis, it is “without form or shape”.

Another way to say this is that prior to creation the world was at maximal entropy (disorder). Creation introduced order (negentropy) and therefore information. According to contemporary cosmology, the moment of ‘creation’ was the moment of minimal entropy. The primal creative act was God’s separation of the light from the darkness.

Also consider that God lets there be light, lets there be a dome, lets the water under the sky be gathered, etc. He does not create these things per se. God creates the conditions necessary (but not sufficient) for light, dome, sky, etc. to occur. The cosmos creates itself within the context established by God.

Finally, had God created light, sky and dry land in the active voice sense of fabrication, he would have known in advance that they were good. Emanating from God, they could be nothing but good. But that is not what happens. First these features appear and then God sees that they are good. In the real world, goodness is never assured; it is always at risk.

Genesis is the story of ‘cosmos evolving’. As such, it is entirely consistent with modern secular cosmological theories like Big Bang and Bootstrapping. God does not ‘make the world’ but rather creates the conditions necessary for the world to create itself (causa sui). Nonetheless, as we shall see below, God is rightly called ‘the universal creator’.

Each ‘day’ in Genesis is an event. Like days of the week, events (days) seem to follow each other sequentially. But in fact, that is not what’s going on. Each event is clearly embedded in its predecessor. Each event only makes sense in the context of prior events.

Like sections of a telescope, events lead back to the primal event, the separation of light from darkness, Day One. The 7th day, when God rested, is often understood to include all of the unenumerated other events that constitute cosmos. Cosmos itself then is a single event with myriads of other events, embedded in it and in one another.

Reality consists solely and entirely of events. Therefore, if God is real, God must also be an event. It is clear (above) that the reality of the universe is dependent on the reality of God. The universe is real, therefore God must be real. Therefore God too is an event.

So there are two primordial events, God and cosmos. All the events that constitute our world are embedded in the single event we call ‘cosmos’; later on we will explore the nature of the event we call ‘God’ and its relationship with our world.

Event

God creates by distinguishing attributes (e.g. light from dark). God does not create attributes per se; they already exist, but as mere potentia. God actualizes them by contrasting them with one another (just as he distinguished light from darkness). God’s contrasts form a unique, universal and harmonious pattern. That pattern gives meaning (information content) to the attributes and that meaning is what enables the attributes to contribute to the character of other events.

Prior to God’s primordial creative act, attributes existed only as mere potentials. God’s structures those attributes into a state of ordered potentiality. It is that order among attributes that enables events to come to be.

Our world consists solely and entirely of events. The events that make up our world incorporate attributes, but not as they exist potentially in the primal chaos, rather as they exist actually in the mind of God. Attributes are available for ingression into events only to the extent that they have information content. Attributes, as distinguished by God, are the basis of all information. Zeroes and ones! Contrasts!

In fact, events are identified by their information content and information content is defined by the unique pattern of attributes that characterizes each event. Therefore, God is the source of all content. He does not determine the specific content of any event; each event is radically free to do that on its own (see Freedom below). But he is the source of all the content options that are available to every event. In that sense, God is potentiality per se and therefore is rightly called ‘the universal creator’.

All events, even God, have a three-fold character. First, as stated above, they include specific attributes, usually to the exclusion of all others. Each event fits its chosen attributes together in a unique, coherent and self-consistent pattern. That pattern defines the event and, in the terminology of German philosopher Martin Heidegger, constitutes its wassein (‘what it is’).

Second, each event takes into consideration all the other events that make up its world. While these other events do not in any way compromise the fundamental, absolute freedom that every event enjoys, they do form the stage on which that freedom expresses itself. These other events function as resistances and instruments for each new event’s freely chosen project.

20th century theologian, Martin Buber, distinguished the freedom of every event from its “fate”. Internally, every event is radically free; externally every event comes to be in the context of other events. These other events constitute fate. Likewise, each new event contributes in turn to the fate of all other events. This manner of ‘being-with’ (mitsein) other events concretizes each event and constitutes its dasein (‘that it is’).

Third, every event makes its information content available to all other events in their respective processes of becoming. The integrated pattern formed by included attributes and encountered events is internalized and projected back into the world. That novel pattern constitutes the ‘objective reality’ of the event, its ‘footprint in the sand’ so to speak. The British philosopher Alfred North Whitehead called this the ‘superject’ of the event. Bastardizing the terminology of Heidegger, we might call it ‘what-it-was & that-it-will-be’.

Being is a puzzle. Every event contributes a prospective solution. Each proposed solution is unique and becomes available as information for every subsequent event. Nothing is ever lost no matter how faint it may appear.

Relation

Events relate to one another in two ways: externally and internally. External relations can be in the mode of causality, aversion or desire. Internal relations are always is in the mode of ‘love’.

So far as external relations are concerned, while the including event is still in the process of becoming, the included events are not; they are settled matters of fact. It is not then the event per se that is included; it is the ‘objective reality’ of that event.

Events included in the mode of causality, aversion and desire must be settled matters of fact (‘objective realities’). Otherwise they could not function as causes or as objects of aversion or desire.

Objective reality exists in the past, not in the present. Therefore, external relations connect the past with the present but the real content of those relations exists only in the past. “Objects consist in having been.” (Martin Buber)

Events, on the other hand, are ‘what’s happening’. Therefore, they exist only in the Present. Past events are now just objects (‘objective reality’); future events are still mere propositions (‘potential reality’).

When two events are related externally, one event contributes to the evolution of the other…but not the other way around. One event is present, the other event is past or future. This ontological asymmetry is responsible for the phenomenon known as ‘time’. From the perspective of external relationships, all process appears to move in a single direction along a timeline.

Internal relations are quite different. When two events relate internally, both events are still in the process of becoming. Therefore, the both events are present. We say that they are ‘co-present’ to one another. They include each other per se: inclusion is reciprocal. A includes B and B includes A. A is embedded in B and B is embedded in A. This relationship cannot be illustrated using a Fenn Diagram. An altogether different kind of space is required.

Internal relations are ontologically symmetrical. Therefore, they do not give rise to the phenomenon of time. For centuries human beings have testified that “time stands still” or “disappears” for lovers and mystics. These are highly specialized cases of internal relationship.

It is important to note here that internal relations are by no means a purely human phenomenon. Nor are they the exclusive province of sentient or even living organisms. The most prolific example of an internal relation is the relation that exists between entangled particles.

If particle A and particle B have a common origin, or if they experience a close encounter, they may become ‘entangled’. In that case, no matter how far A and B drift apart, a measurement made on A to determine the value of a particular parameter (e.g. spin) will immediately determine the value of that parameter on B.

It appears that time stands still for lovers, mystics and entangled particles. The use of the term ‘love’ should not suggest any sort of sentimentality. Love is a fundamental component of universe and is relevant at all ontological levels.

Once any A and B (human or quantum) are internally related, they evolve symbiotically thereafter in an infinite feedback loop. Think of mirrors facing one another along a fun house wall. There is certainly process going here on here but that process is not linear and does not give rise to the notion of time.

Events include relations with multiple other events. In fact, every event relates in some way to every other event in its world. Some of these relations are internal, most are external. Some are intense, most are weak. Nonetheless, the web of relation is all inclusive.

External relations allow events to appropriate for themselves the attributes and the facticity of other events. Internal relations are just the opposite. When two events are internally related, each is concerned primarily with the other’s becoming, even at the expense of its own. One does not seek to appropriate the attributes or facticity of the other; rather, each offers up its own.

If grasping is a metaphor for an external relation, letting go would be the metaphor for an internal relation. Events related in the mode of love are protective of each other’s freedom, not covetous of each other attributes. A’s goal is that B should develop as fully and freely as possible; and vice-versa.

By reinforcing each other’s freedom, internally related events allow each other to continue their respective processes of becoming. They keep each other in the present and so are eternally co-present to one another.

Ironically, ‘grasping’ external relations give rise to temporality and thereby mortality; ‘releasing’ internal relations, on the other hand, give rise to eternity.

Anaximander, the father of Western philosophy believed that there could be no event unless that event included at least one internal relation. He taught that coming-to-be was inherently a process of mutuality, akin to cosmic bootstrapping (above). He thought that entities came to be only by granting each other ‘reck’, i.e. only be letting each other develop freely.

Granting each other ‘reck’ to develop freely requires a leap of faith. It requires that we acknowledge the other as ontologically equal to ourselves and it requires that we respect that ontological status as absolute and inviolate.

Events, in so far as they are internally related, place their own coming-to-be at risk in deference to the coming-to-be of the other. Internal relations, relations in the mode of love, are reck. Reck involves risk, it is a leap in the dark; and yet it is precisely that reck, that leap, the lets both events come to be.

However, counter-intuitive it may be, A comes to be only by letting go of B and vice-versa. Of course, A and B may be externally related to other events, but so long as A and B share an internal relation, they continue their respective adventures of becoming. They remain in the timeless Present.

Love, internal relation, is by definition an act of self-sacrifice. “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” (Jn 15:13)

Martin Buber illustrates this theme with an ancient Hindu tale of gods and demons “engaged in a contest. Then the demons said: ‘To whom shall we off our sacrifices?’ They placed all offerings in their own mouths. But the gods placed the offerings in one another’s mouth. Then Prajapati, the primal spirit, bestowed himself upon the gods.”

Being is the fruit of self-sacrifice, the by-product of love.

Buber divides relationships into two modes: I – It and I – Thou. In the context of this essay, I – It relations involve the inclusion of one event by another event in the mode of causality, aversion or desire; I – Thou relations involve the inclusion of two events in each other in the mode of love.

The French Existentialist, Jean Paul Sartre, divides being into two modes: en-soi (in-itself) and pour-soi (for itself). Inclusion in the modes of causality, aversion and desire is being-in-itself; inclusion in the mode of love is being pour-soi.

Anaximander’s student, Parmenides, divides the world into two ‘ways’: the way of truth (Aletheia) and the way of appearance (Doxa). Doxa is the way of external relations. In Doxa, events include other events only in the modes of causality, aversion and desire.

Aletheia is the way of internal relations. Because there are no external relations in Aletheia, there are no phenomena. Therefore, this way appears static and featureless; but there may be intense noumenal processes going on beneath the phenomenologically blank surface. Process does not cease just because time is suspended.

There are no external relations in Aletheia, only internal ones. Therefore, the Present is found only in Aletheia. In fact, Aletheia is Presence; there is no past or future here. Without a past and without a future, Presence is just another name for eternity.

Events in the ‘way of appearance’ (Doxa) exist only in the past and in the future, never in the present. Therefore they are really just ‘virtual events’. Only in the ‘way of truth’ (Aletheia) are events present and therefore real; they exist outside of time, in eternity. Eternity = Presence = Reality.

Word

In many ancient grammars verbs were conjugated in three voices, not just two. Our modern languages for the most part include only active and passive voices. These are the voices appropriate for describing I – it relationships, being-in-itself, Doxa, and inclusion in the modes of causality, aversion and desire.

Ancient languages often included a middle voice, now largely lost. This was the voice of reciprocity, I – Thou, being-for-itself, Aletheia, inclusion in the mode of love.

The Biblical story of the Tower of Babel is a metaphor for the loss of the middle voice. The middle voice was the voice of interpersonality. We traded that voice for active voice supremacy in order to facilitate projects like the construction of a tower. The active voice makes it possible for us to objectify everything around us, even (or especially?) other human beings.

God relates to cosmos and all the events that constitute cosmos only in the mode of love. Therefore, God’s language (logos, Word, Jn. 1: 1) only has one voice, the middle voice. God’s relation is always at least a proposal of reciprocity. Therefore, God’s relationship with us and our world is called “covenant”.

God does not arrange events according to some pre-determined grand plan. That’s active voice thinking. God’s plan is implicate in his valuation of the attributes but the physical expression of that plan is always in flux and even in doubt according to the radical freedom of each individual event.

God’s relationship with the events of the world is symbiotic (middle voice). God enters into the real constitution of events but events may also enter into the real constitution of God. They do not ‘change’ God but they do ‘express’ God. God’s nature is immutable; his expression is infinitely malleable. The relationship between God and every other event is just the sort of eternal feedback loop we identified above as love.

Freedom

The world consists solely and entirely of events and all events, no matter how trivial, are radically free (causa sui). God is an event and therefore God is radically free.

It is commonly believed that events are caused by other events. Some people (like Laplace) believe that future events are absolutely determined by past events. Others believe that future events are merely conditioned by their predecessors.

Such views are entirely wrong, examples of a famous logical fallacy: post hoc ergo propter hoc. Our temporal perspective on the world makes it seem as though past events are causing present ones but this is akin to an optical illusion.

Of course, every event takes into consideration all other events in its world; it has to. This is what ‘being-with’ means. Being-with is what makes an event actual. In fact, we can only access the primal attributes that ultimately define us through our relations with other actual events (including God). That is why we access attributes, not as they exist in potentia in the primordial chaos but as they exist in actu in God and, through God, in other events.

Every event must take into consideration all other events in its world. That ‘consideration’ is what constitutes its concreteness, its actuality. However, that consideration cannot in any way compromise the radical freedom of the event itself.

In fact, the reverse is true. Unless an event introduces an element of unanticipated novelty, it is not an event at all. To be is to manifest information. “It from bit!” (Wheeler) Without novelty, there is no information. Therefore, the notion of a ‘determined event’ is an oxymoron. Even an event ‘determined’ with a specific probability is not a true event. When a casino cleans out a gambler after a long night of wins and losses, we don’t call that an event; the outcome was implicit in the structure of the game itself.

A true event must freely break out from its background; otherwise it has no information content. To the extent that the future is implicit in the past, there is no real novelty and therefore no information; in such a world, there are no events. To put it another way, all real events must be ‘black swans’.

Furthermore, the notion of historical causality leads to an obvious, and insoluble, paradox. If every event is caused by a prior event, then what caused the first event? There are many proposed ‘solutions’ to this paradox but none of them holds water.

Thomas Aquinas tried to use this paradox to prove the existence of God: the uncaused cause, the unmoved mover. The problem, however, is that Thomas thereby made God an exception to the world’s rules rather than their chief exemplar.

So what is the alternative? Earlier, we spoke of events including other events ‘in the mode of causality’. What’s important here is that it is the present event that is doing the including. Past events are available for inclusion in present events but that’s all they are…available.

Every event is radically free. Every event chooses which past events to include in the mode of causality. In other words, every event chooses its own past from the myriad of pasts available to it. By choosing a past, the event goes a long way toward establishing its identity.

Once it has chosen a past, it appears as though it were a consequence of that past. And so it is, provided we keep in mind that it was the present event that constituted that causal past, and not the other way around.

Each event further defines its nature by including other events in the modes of aversion or desire. Therefore, through its external relations with the actual world, each event defines its own past, what it was (causality), and its own future, what it will be (aversion and desire). This is the radically free process we call becoming.

Time

In so far as time is real, internal relations would necessarily suspend time. Two events, internally related, constitute a hole in the timeline.

Events that include internal relations have extension (e.g. “duration” per French philosopher Henri Bergson); therefore they each occupy a region on the timeline. However, within that region there is no sequence; each event is a quantum, a timeless whole.

If there are no events without internal relations (Anaximander, above), then every event must include at least one internal relation and therefore every event must be a hole in the timeline, a timeless oasis in a sea of temporality. But if our world consists solely and entirely of events (as posited above), then this so-called ‘sea of temporality’ is not real. Time turns out to be nothing more than an intellectual construct enabling us to map the external relations among events.

On the one hand, this seems to be a momentous conclusion. But on the other hand, it is nothing more than what we have always known about time: it’s a way to measure separation between entities, a way to measure loss. To paraphrase John Lennon (and distort his meaning), “Time is a concept by which we measure our pain.”

What’s new here is our understanding that there is something more to reality than measurement. It is commonplace today for folks to say, “If you can’t measure it, it isn’t real.” The opposite is true: If you can measure it, it isn’t real.

Since our world consists solely of events, and since every event is a hole in the timeline, any real world timeline must consist entirely of holes. But that makes no sense. Therefore, the concept of time itself has no relevance to the real world. Time only concerns events as they happened in the past or may happen in the future whereas the real world is what’s happening in the present and the present exists only outside of time.

Past events (objects) and future events (propositions) contribute content (objective or potential reality) to the present but they do not exist in the present.

God

As we have already seen, God is an event. Therefore, God too must have a three-fold character:

God (and God alone) includes all attributes, excluding none, harmonizing all. Like all events, God is defined by the pattern of attributes he exhibits. We call that particular pattern “Heaven”.

God also includes all the other events that make up in his world, the world. He includes them, not in the modes of causality, aversion or desire, but solely in the mode of love (aka mercy). We call that pattern “Redemption”.

Likewise, God is available to enter into the constitution of all other events. God’s patterns of attributes and events are internalized, integrated and projected back into the world. We call that pattern “Kingdom”.

The Kingdom of God is the totality of events, harmonized by God (Redemption) into a pattern that perfectly instantiates God’s values (Heaven).

It is strictly determined that the Kingdom of God will be structured according to God’s valuation of the primordial attributes, i.e. according to his values. However, the nature of the events that make up that Kingdom is totally undetermined. Consider this logical sequence:

  • The world will ultimately be structured in accordance with God’s primordial valuation of the attributes.
  • That pattern will consist of events, each of which is radically free to determine its own nature.
  • Regardless of the content of these events, God will resolve all conflicts into contrasts and all contrasts into harmonies consistent with his values.
  • God projects this ultimate synthesis (Kingdom) back into the actual world of every other event. Therefore, emerging events not only have access to all the attributes as they are distinguished and valued by God, but they also have access to the ultimate pattern of events as they are harmonized by God.
  • Each event participates in that ultimate pattern. Therefore, as each event becomes, it has access to information about its own ultimate role in the pattern of events we call Kingdom. Our immediate process of becoming is informed and potentially influenced by our eternal relationship with God.

This constitutes a crucial non-linear, recursive loop. Every event has the potential to include its own ultimate, eschatological self in its immediate, historical determination. It is easy to see now why linear time can have no role in the ‘real’ world. Relations among events in the eternal Present are highly non-linear.

When we speak of conscience, or an innate sense of right and wrong, we are acknowledging the reality of this recursive loop. This is also the basis of ethics and morality. As moral people, we seek to model our lives according to God’s values; but as ethical people, we seek to pattern our lives in accord with God’s Kingdom.

This mirrors the Old Testament distinction between Tsaddiq (righteousness) and Mishpat (justice). The righteous seek to instantiate God’s values in their daily lives; the just seek to instantiate their lives in God’s Kingdom. Of course, the two are hardly mutually exclusive.

Trinity

God is not an exception to the laws of being; he is their exemplar-in-chief. Therefore, God’s being must be a function of love (internal relation).

Any two events, A and B, come to be through a reciprocal internal relationship (Anaximander et al.). However, in most cases both A and B also have external relations so A and B are distinct from one another and distinct from their relationship, AB. We love our spouses but we also play golf.

God does not play golf. (He has been accused of playing dice, but that is another matter altogether.) God does not enter into external relations. In God, there is only internal relation but any relation requires at least two relata. Therefore, God must be both the relata and the relationship. Neither A nor B nor AB has any external relation. Therefore, A and B and AB are all totally and completely God even though A and B and AB necessarily play different roles within the event we call ‘God’.

God’s own essential nature is a microcosm of his relationship with the world. Likewise, God’s relationship with the world is an expression and an extension of the internal relationship that constitutes his being.

In Christian terminology, we call one relatum ‘Father’ (Creator), we call the other ‘Son’ (Redeemer) and we call the relationship between them ‘Spirit’ (Peace).

God the Father creates the world by distinguishing, and thereby valuing, all attributes. God the Son redeems the world by harmonizing all the events that make it up according the pattern of attributes established by the Father. God the Spirit projects the pattern of events, redeemed by the Son (Kingdom) in accordance with the values of the Father (Heaven), back into the world.

All events are Trinitarian by nature but only God is Trinity per se.

Incarnation

God cannot adopt and manifest attributes as they exist in potentia unless they exist in a unique and self-consistent pattern constituting an actual event. Therefore, wassein and dasein alone are not sufficient to characterize God; mitsein (being-with) is also required. But if God is the primordial event, how is mitsein possible?

At the end of our opening section (Creation), we promised to shed light on God’s relationship with the cosmos. We’ve seen that God must be the event that pre-conditions all other events through his valuation of the attributes (wassein). Likewise, we’ve seen that God must be the event that encompasses all other events (dasein) through his redemption. Now we see that he must also be an event among those other events (mitsein).

According to the Nicene Creed, a foundational document for most Christian churches, God (Son) became incarnate in the world through the agency of the Holy Spirit. Remember, it is the Son that redeems the world and constitutes it as Kingdom, but it is God’s Spirit that projects that Kingdom (Peace) back into the historical world.

The doctrine of Incarnation states that the Spirit projects the Kingdom into the historical world, through the incarnation of the Son, as an historical event among events (mitsein). The Incarnation is God’s eternal answer to Job:

“As for me, I know that my redeemer lives, and that he will at last stand forth upon the dust…and from my flesh I will see God.” (Job 19: 25, 26b)

“And the Word (logos) became flesh and made his dwelling among us.” (Jn. 1: 14a)

Incarnation is truly the climax of Christian cosmology; it literally turns the world inside out. The whole is now contained in a single one of its parts. Through Incarnation, the event called ‘God’ is ‘being with’ all other events, not just outside of time in eternity, but inside of time in history:

“He was in the world, and the world came to be through him…” (Jn. 1: 10a)

God is internal relation, God is love. God enters, at least potentially, into an internal relation with every other event in a three-fold way. As Creator, God orders the primordial attributes, endows them with meaning and makes them available for ingression into all other events. As Redeemer, God includes all events in an ultimate pattern of harmony. As Spirit, God projects that ultimate pattern back into the world. Through Incarnation, God enters into the real, historical world of all other events and becomes part of the mitsein of each.

To be, then, is to become in the milieu of God. God is the universal womb in which every event is conceived, matures and acquires its character. Each event encounters God in three ways: in the valuation of the attributes, in the pattern of eschatological harmony and as a fellow-traveler on the way.

According to the most famous Christian doxology recited at the climax of the Roman Catholic Mass, “Through him, with him, and in him, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, all glory and honor are yours, almighty Father, forever and ever.”

By “him”, of course, we mean the Son of God, incarnate:

Through him, “He was in the beginning with God. All things came to be through him, and without him nothing came to be…” (Jn. 1: 2 – 3a)

With him, “God so loved he world that he gave his only Son so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life.” (Jn 3: 16)

In him, “Then comes the end, when he hands over the kingdom to his God and Father…When everything is subjected to him, then the Son will be subjected to the one who subjected everything to him, so that God may be all in all.” (I Cor 15: 24 – 28)