Wednesday, December 12, 2007

On An Old Note to Paul Vitz

Commentary on Paul Vitz's "The Psychology of Atheism:" A Presentation at Columbia University’s Augustine Club in the late 90’s.

Dear Paul,

1. I obviously enjoyed and appreciated your talk at Columbia's Augustine Club. As per our short conversation at the conclusion, let me give some body and reference to my suggestion.

a) Re: Your point on the psychology of atheism: two can play this game. If they say that God is a psychological projection, one can counter to show that atheism itself is a like projection. I.e., those without fathers do not believe in God, and those with fathers do.

b) The obvious difficulty with such argumentation is its reductionism. That is, on the level of the epistemology of abstraction, both arguments grind the human person down to the level of a monadic "nothing-butism" powered by dyadic stimulus-response mechanisms and we are out of the realm where God is to be known as experienced whichever way you go. But as you said, it does help to have a good father. You gave short shrift to both arguments, but you thought that your own research and argumentation had apologetic value.

c) However, as I suggested to you last night, if we were to take your argument (which I believe is the same as Karl Stern in his "Flight From Woman") and reconsider it in the light of the theology of communio (communio personarum), it takes on new meaning and an absolute validity. Let me explore it.

1. From a theological perspective, since man has been made in the image of God, his knowledge of God derives from the direct experience of himself precisely as image. The loss of the act of imaging has produced the loss of the experience and hence the consciousness of God.

2. Since God has revealed himself to be a communio of Persons such that the meaning of person is to be in relation, then the imaging of those Persons demands that the human person, to be person, must be in relation. That is to say: God the Father is Person as Father only insofar as He is engendering the Son. He is not Father and then engenders the Son. His Personhood consists in the very act of engendering. Esse est agere. Person and mission are identical. To be = to be for. If the Father were not the engendering of the Son, he would not be Father but only God. See Ratzinger's "Introduction to Christianity," p. 131-132.

The same holds for the Son vis a vis the Father. His is the obeying and glorifying of the Father. And it is in His image that we were created. Hence, the very meaning of "I" in God and in the image is to be loved as the reception of another "I" and to make the gift of my "I." In fact, "I" means to be gift.

This cannot be experienced through external sensation of cosmic reality. It is not a given on that level of experience. But it is available through another kind of experience which is moral in which the "I" is precisely gift. It is in this empirical experience - not through external sensation - but, like Newman - of moral life that I experience my "I," and in so experiencing it, I experience the "I" as image of God. Nay, more: I experience God. I know God. Atheism is vanquished by a direct experience.

3. Hence, the reception of self gift from a father is not just helpful adjunct to God talk. It turns out to be the very experience in which I become "I" as image of God and (perhaps unconceptually, but not unconsciously) enter into a direct experience of - not just God as a "Substance" - but of God as Father. I.e., as Person. That is to say, I come to know God as the Person of the Father, and that knowledge is experiential.

Quotes from JP II: "At the end of the second millennium, we need, perhaps more than ever, the words of the Risen Christ: `Be not afraid!'... Peoples and nations of the entire world need to hear these words. Their conscience needs to grow in the certainty that Someone exists who holds in His hands the destiny of this passing world; Someone who holds the keys to death and the netherworld a (cf. Rev. 1, 18); Someone who is the Alpha and the Omega of human history (cf. Rev. 22, 13) ...And this Someone is Love (cf. 1 Jn. 4, 8, 16) - Love that became man, Love crucified and risen, Love unceasingly present among men. It is Eucharistic Love. It is the infinite source of communion. He alone can give the ultimate assurance when He says `Be not afraid!'" ("Crossing the Threshold of Hope," Knopf [1994] 221-222).

The key hermeneutic of this quote is from Ratzinger who comments precisely on this text (Communio {magazine} Spring 1995, pp. 109-110): “This knowledge of God, in which God is no longer merely thought, but is also experienced, ripens in that dialogue with God which we call prayer. ‘Prayer is a search for God, but it is also a revelation of God, says the pope (25): to pray is not just to talk, but also to listen. The pope puts it like this: ‘The “Thou” is more important because our prayer begins with God” (16). This act of leaving the circle of our own words and our own desires, this drawing back of the I, this self-abandonment to the mysterious presence which awaits us – this more than anything constitutes prayer. The pope thus also responds to the question of Oriental forms of prayer, which he examines at full length elsewhere in the book (84ff.). Christian prayer has a mystical dimension, but it dos not end with the disappearance of the I; rather , it ignites the flame of love, which goes beyond the boundaries of the I and at the same time radically renews it in the encounter with the other Christian prayer therefore signifies entering together into the universality of God; not an exit from being into nothingness, but a new ingress into the world, this time from the liberating perspective of God… God in Karol Wojtyla is not only thought but also experienced. The pope expressly opposes the limitation of the concept of experience which occurred in Empiricism; he points out that the form of experience elaborated in the natural sciences is not the only kind, but that there are also other forms which are no less real and important: moral experience, human experience, religious experience (p. 34). But this experience is, of course, also reflected upon and verified in its rational content..."

There is much more to be said on this. But the point is that God can and must be directly experienced as Person now at the cusp of the new millennium. That is the only escape from the radical atheism resulting from the exacerbated individualism in which we are mired. It will not be done exclusively by rational argument, although that also has its part to play, but it is not the principal part. The principal part is the direct experience of the self as being loved and loving, and for that, your argument for the loving presence of the father is an indispensable condition. Hence, I would expand the argument and then insert it into this higher epistemology that accrues from this other level of experience (moral) of being a person in a communion of persons.

See also Ratzinger's notion of the engendering of the "I" by the indispensable love another in "Principles of Catholic Theology," (Ignatius) pp. 79-81 and Pieper's "Creative Affirmation" in "An Anthology" (Ignatius) pp. 30-31.


Rev. Robert A. Connor

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