Part 3. The Will of the Sofa
This follows on from part 1, whereas part 2 was a bit of background. In part 1 I described what it means to say that something like Marxism, or pacificm, exist. As we saw it is a strange type of existence: we can look at it as one amorphous thing, or many more specific things. Neither view is correct, Marxism itself is both one and many, both amorphous and specific.
I’m going to turn towards God now.
It will come as no surprise for me to say that I think God exists in the same way as Marxism and pacifism. God exists as a property of many human thoughts. At one level God is universal and ineffable. At another, God is personal and specific.
By abandoning the need to think about a God as an external, objective thing, this model allows us to take believers seriously, and understand what they think about the God they worship. Because, at least at some levels, what they think about God does define God. And at another level, all those thoughts flow into the amorphous world-spanning notion of God that humanity has given birth to.
I think it is a powerful model. And this and the next and last part will explore two features of it.
God the Agent
You don’t have to talk to believers for long, before you realise that they mostly agree that God has desires. I’ve met very few believers who were truly deist. Most want to claim, at least at some level, that God wants to influence the way we behave. God favours good actions over bad actions (for a suitable definition of Good and Bad).
Now this is a fascinating thing – because we’re now out of the territory of Marxism and pacifism, into new features of the God concept. One could certainly talk what it means to be a ‘good’ or ‘bad’ Marxist, and by implication that being a Marxism means you should prefer one action over another.
But you would not say (unless by metaphor) that Marxism itself wants you to behave one way or another.
We could dismiss this by saying that God is just a personified concept. But that would miss the point. The point is that believers believe that their God wants them to do stuff. And, crucially, they will therefore go out and do it.
So we have this strange phenomenon of a concept with not only desires, but agency: a concept that can get its desires fulfilled. God has no hands or legs, but God can mobilise human beings with hands and legs to act in the world.
In the comments to my first part it was suggested that this model applies to anything. At that stage it did. But now, not at all. A sofa can’t do work in the real world. God can. God can have constitutional rights rescinded in California, or organize a terrorist attack in New York.
Obviously it is human beings doing these things. That is true. But then, when you write a comment on a blog, it is fingers actually doing the typing.
My central thesis is that, by combining a large number of independent thinkers, each imagining and listening for God, and each in communication and tight feedback with each other, people inadvertently form the fabric of exactly such a thing – a God with desires and will. As long as we bear in mind the amorphous-specific distinction from part 1, we are justified in talking about the will of God.
Still just a concept, God can function as an actor and agent in the physical world.
This, I contend, is quite unlike most other concepts, such as Marxism, or Sofa-ness.
This mini-series is exploring the theological model I am using for some work I am doing at the moment. I am experimenting with different ways to express the core ideas, because I’m not sure what makes the most sense. I’d really appreciate feedback, suggestions and links to other similar work.
Oh, and I’m still an atheist 🙂