Junior Ganymede
We endeavor to give satisfaction

Revelation: A Syllogism

November 13th, 2012 by G.

First premise: Nothing made by mortals can be perfect.

Second premise: Every communication is partly made by the listener.

Conclusion: No perfect revelation to mortals can be made.

The second premise is the interesting part. Its obviously true that communication includes understanding– the listener is the understander–and so the listener makes part of the communication. But there’s another way that the listener makes it.

Just a few days ago I was flipping through my journal. As I get older and settle into myself more, journal-flipping embarrasses me less and surprises me more. The thoughts are less juvenile and less obviously mine, they surprise me the way any novel insight surprises me. This time, flipping through my journal, I came across an aphorism. “Every conversation is a little civilization.” Every conversation is its own subculture. There is a private social contract when we speak.

The speaker seeks to be understood and speaks according to his understanding of the listener. He has a model of the listener through which he filters his thoughts. This model is partly created by the listener, by the listener’s responses, and by the listener’s prior acts and being. Taking off from D&C 50 , we might even say that the listener helps directly construct the model through the channel provided by the Holy Ghost.

When we speak, we speak in roles. But those roles are partly determined by what the listener will accept and more than partly determined by who the listener is. Lehi says there are things that act and things to be acted upon. The acting thing is partly determined by the thing that is acted upon: the thing that is acted upon sets the metes and determines the bounds of the actor’s possibilities.

The word is made flesh.

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See here for related.

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Cross-posted at the Old Country.

Comments (37)
Filed under: Deseret Review | Tags: , , , , , , , , ,
November 13th, 2012 10:03:36
37 comments

Adam Miller
November 13, 2012

Nice. That which acts is always acted upon by that which is acted upon!


Adam G.
November 13, 2012

I don’t know if we’re one-upping each other to see who can phrase it best, but if so yours is the crown.

—–

One implication of this line of thought is that God’s work cannot be perfect, since his work is to act upon us–or even, in the Atonement, to be acted upon by us.

Less congenially, another implication is that God himself is imperfect, since he has chosen to exist in relation to us. So Christ’s condescension really is in the footsteps of his Father, who merely be creation has chosen to be contaminated with mortal stuff. Something to mull over.


Rob Perkins
November 13, 2012

Nice thoughts, thank you. (The “See here for related” link is not working, though.)

[Ed.-- Fixed. Thanks for the aviso.]


Agellius
November 13, 2012

Interesting. But I think I would rather word it this way:

First premise: Nothing made by mortals can be perfect.

Second premise: Every communication between God and mortals is partly made by mortals.

Conclusion: No perfect communication between God and mortals can be made.

I would agree with this. The part where I hiccup in your wording is where you seem to say that revelation itself is imperfect. That of course depends on what you mean by “revelation”: whether you’re referring to the content or the communication of the content from source to recipient.

I agree it’s possible that the communication is always flawed. Then again, God being perfect, he knows the limitations of our understanding in the first place. Why then couldn’t he tailor the revelation — both content and communication — to our capacities? In other words, put the content in such a form or limit it in such a way that we can receive and grasp it perfectly so far as it goes?

Even then, of course there will often be people who receive and grasp it imperfectly (not to mention those who refuse to receive it, or are incapable, for whatever reason, of grasping it, at all). But there could be people who receive and grasp it perfectly, if God so wills that they should and enables them by his grace to do so. Couldn’t there?


Reid
November 13, 2012

Interesting thoughts. Thankyou.

“I never told you I was perfect; but there is no error in the revelations which I have taught” Joseph Smith, Jr. (Teachings, p. 368).


Vader
November 13, 2012

It would be surprising if our concept of perfection was perfect.


Eric James Stone
November 13, 2012

“Every conservation is a little civilization.”

I think you meant “conversation,” not “conservation.”


Adam G.
November 13, 2012

No, no, no, its just that my deep thoughts are too much for your little mind.

Also, fixed.


Zen
November 13, 2012

At one point in the Old Testament, a brass temple basin is described as having a circumference to diameter ratio of 3. Of course, with our superior knowledge of things like irrational and transcendental numbers, recognize that that should be ? ? 3.14159…

So, did God err, or was it not an important detail?

I have been teaching for a while and I can see now that most of what I give my students is extreme simplifications.

For instance, of course a triangle’s angles sum to 180°. I don’t generally include that that would have to be modified in a non-Euclidian spacetime. It would only confuse students struggling with basic math.

The unlettered Israelites didn’t even have a conception of zero, much less irrational and transcendental numbers were given as much knowledge as they were ready for, and they were able to do make that temple basin as commanded.

I don’t think God is ashamed to dumb things down for us. He knows we are going to miss a lot of what He says. And that is ok. He has more where that came from.


Zen
November 13, 2012

That was Pi, in case you were curious.

It looks like the blog likes to eat math symbols, even if they are proper ascii.


YvonneS
November 14, 2012

That is why the Holy Ghost plays an important role in any revelation. He makes it possibly for the recipient to understand more fully what the revelator wants understood. That means that when the Holy Ghost is not present there is no revelation.


Adam G.
November 14, 2012

Agellius,
I could equally well craft a syllogism about God’s perfection and conclude that revelation must be perfect, which is what you implicitly do. So I think we’re dealing with a kind of incarnational mystery, where somehow God’s perfection and mortal imperfection are able to interact. When Christ said he only did that which he has seen the Father do, he may have been suggesting that his incarnation was only a heightening or a special case of something that was already occurring in his Father’s interaction with and sustenance of creation.

I agree with you that through grace we could understand more than we can understand and know more than we can know. However, I am inclined to believe that God cannot transform us too much–give us too much grace–without destroying our continuity with our past self and therefore without having the new grace-filled creature not be meaningfully us. Remember the old Greek conundrum about the ship of Theseus? The process there was a gradual one, but most would agree that if the process took place all at once, if the ship of Theseus was dismantled and at the same time alongside it a new ship was constructed, the new ship wouldn’t be the ship of Theseus.

When the scriptures speak of being ‘reborn’ or being ‘born again’ they are implying that the reborn person is in some kind of meaningful continuity with the person before the rebirth (otherwise you’d just be ‘born’ in baptism, not ‘reborn’).

I don’t deny that certain people seem to have experienced what you might call a beatific vision, but afterwards they return to themselves and what they knew in their elevated state is not only incommunicable but often by themselves no longer known, only remembered to have been known.


JT
November 14, 2012

Interesting thoughts. I am not convinced that premise 1 is true (and maybe it has to do with what, in actuality, “perfect” means). I think we sometimes take the idea that no mortal is perfect (sinless? mistakeless? mortal?) throughout their life to mean that mortals are always (i.e., at all times, at every moment) imperfect in everything they do. I’m not sure that this is true.


Agellius
November 14, 2012

JT:

I think I agree with you, which is why I said “I agree it’s *possible* that the communication is always flawed”. I’m not sure we know that communication between God and man is *always* flawed.


Adam G.
November 14, 2012

JT,
I’m not sure you’re wrong. Let me see if I can explain why I’m not sure you’re right, either.

I am leary of carving up our identity into multiple time chunks. It seems to me that everything we do affects everything else we do in some small way, because what *I* am is a radical unity throughout time. I’m expressing it badly and worse yet, the concept I’m groping at isn’t one I apprehend very well myself, but hopefully there’s enough there for you to get a sense of what I mean.

But when it comes to communication, I doubt that any perfect communication is possible to a mortal ever. My sense is that perfect communication is only possible between beings that already share so much that the communication is itself ritualistic, because no information needs to be passed.


Agellius
November 14, 2012

Adam:

You write, “… I think we’re dealing with a kind of incarnational mystery, where somehow God’s perfection and mortal imperfection are able to interact. When Christ said he only did that which he has seen the Father do, he may have been suggesting that his incarnation was only a heightening or a special case of something that was already occurring in his Father’s interaction with and sustenance of creation.”

Good point. I agree that God reveals himself in creation, as well as more directly and perfectly in Christ himself. Thomas Aquinas says that every part of creation reveals a part or an aspect of God, and (paraphrasing of course) it would take an immediate grasp of the entirety of creation all at once, to fully get what God is revealing in creation. But of course the only one who could have such a grasp is God himself.

Our grasp of God’s revelation of himself through creation, is limited to the small speck of creation we occupy and its immediate vicinity (though our view of creation seems to be ever expanding). Yet St. Paul indicates that the revelation given by the small slice of creation within our view, is sufficient to remove any excuse for evildoing, even without any explicit revelation, since it does in fact reveal God’s existence and his requirements for our conduct. (Rom. 1:20)

We may not see all of revelation, but what we see is real; just as an ant on a globe might not see the whole globe, but the parts that he does see are real, and he really sees them.

You write, “However, I am inclined to believe that God cannot transform us too much–give us too much grace–without destroying our continuity with our past self and therefore without having the new grace-filled creature not be meaningfully us”, etc.

That’s a good point too, and maybe too philosophically deep for me to discuss intelligently. But my first thought is, that grace is not necessarily a changing of nature but an adding to nature. In which case we can be entirely ourselves, while having new capacities or knowledge added to us. Like an ancient Greek ship having a gas engine and propeller installed.


Adam G.
November 14, 2012

ut my first thought is, that grace is not necessarily a changing of nature but an adding to nature. In which case we can be entirely ourselves, while having new capacities or knowledge added to us. Like an ancient Greek ship having a gas engine and propeller installed.

That’s a fine analogy. But if you add an entire aircraft carrier to the ship of Theseus, its not the ship of Theseus anymore, its an aircraft carrier with kindling in the hold. Under your analogy or mine, you still get the result that *too much* grace destroys identity.


wreddyornot
November 14, 2012

Wouldn’t perfect communication simply violate one’s agency? Isn’t what we perceive always filtered through unique imagination?


Zen
November 14, 2012

Would Theseus’s ship still be his, if the Greeks added a few new things, such a gas engine?

God is certainly capable of transforming us instantly, but instead lets us struggle and add to ourselves what talents we can. The parable of the talents may be particularly applicable here.

Could Theseus’s ship become an aircraft carrier? I am inclined to say yes, but only if it is natural growth of his ship, and not instantaneous transformation/replacement. Otherwise, his ship would merely be a life-raft on the aircraft carrier. Considering the pains that God goes through to NOT overwhelm us, perhaps this is why.


MC
November 14, 2012

“But if you add an entire aircraft carrier to the ship of Theseus, its not the ship of Theseus anymore, its an aircraft carrier with kindling in the hold.”

At least it isn’t a flying robot sea bear.


Agellius
November 14, 2012

Adam:

You write, “… if you add an entire aircraft carrier to the ship of Theseus, its not the ship of Theseus anymore, its an aircraft carrier with kindling in the hold. Under your analogy or mine, you still get the result that *too much* grace destroys identity.”

I’m not sure why it has to. With a physical object I can see your point, because physical objects are made of matter. So if only 10% of the matter is really “you” and the rest is added on to you, then you’re mostly not you. But when talking about the soul, at least in Catholic theology — and this may be where our disagreement really lies — you’re not talking about the matter a person is made of, but the form that matter takes; and in talking about the intellect, you’re talking about the completely immaterial and everlasting part of you. Adding capacities and knowledge to an intellect doesn’t seem to me to cause a person to become mostly not himself.

Adding knowledge, in particular, seems obviously not to change who we are. I know a million times more than I knew when I was a baby, yet there’s no question that I’m still me. I don’t think that knowledge is ever foreign to an intellect in the way that matter can be foreign to a body.

As for adding the ability to see and understand things, I also don’t see why that should make me mostly not me. For one thing, don’t we agree that this is what happens to us after we die, assuming we make it to Heaven in our resurrected bodies? Yet I expect to remain entirely myself, if not more so, even if what is added to my intellect in Heaven is as an aircraft carrier compared to my current intellectual capacity. (Or do you perhaps believe something else, like, for example, that our intellectual capacity remains the same after we have died, and we can only add to it in the same way we do in this life, i.e. gradually through sequential experiences? That’s just a guess.)

I picture it to myself as more like growth than external addition. The matter of my body is many times what it was when I was a baby, but that doesn’t mean that the baby me is a small fraction of the adult me, and the remaining fraction is not-me. Rather, I’ve simply grown into a larger and more knowledgeable me. It may be that in some cases, God accelerates the process of growth for people in this world, making them, in advance, a little more like what they will become in Heaven; maybe in only one respect, or maybe only temporarily; or maybe not.

However I think your point is that if God had taken the baby me and made him into the adult me overnight, there would be discontinuity of identity in a way which doesn’t occur with natural growth. But I’m not sure I agree. Again this may stem from disagreements in our respective theologies. For God, being outside time, changing me “overnight” doesn’t really mean anything, since for him a day is as a thousand years. Only God knows how such a thing could be done in the first place; and this description may sound a little weird. But strictly speaking, only the material part of our being is subject to time. My identity, strictly speaking, is most closely identified with my (immaterial) intellect, moreso than my material body. God’s adding knowledge and mental capacity to my intellect would not necessarily have to take place “in time”. And supposing he greatly accelerated my bodily growth, and my mental growth at the same time, so long as it’s growth and not simply an immediate transformation from infant to adult, I’m not sure why the amount of time it takes to occur has a direct bearing on whether I retain the same identity.

C.S. Lewis had a similar explanation of miracles, in which he said that Christ’s miracles were always (or nearly always?) instances of natural occurrences greatly accelerated.

I apologize if I seem to be making a mountain out of a molehill. I assure you it’s not that I’m desperate to prove you wrong. I just enjoy pondering these things and expounding on them.


Zen
November 15, 2012

First, it looks like I got sloppy and just mostly repeated Adam’s point.

Second of all, Angellus, none of us are going to argue that God works by natural means. He certainly isn’t Harry Potter. Of course, for that matter, even Potter had 7 (ish) long years of school.

But what I really wanted to share, was a bit from Lewis (or Screwtape, depending how you read it)

VIII

MY DEAR WORMWOOD,

So you “have great hopes that the patient’s religious phase is dying away”, have you? I always thought the Training College had gone to pieces since they put old Slubgob at the head of it, and now I am sure. Has no one ever told you about the law of Undulation?

Humans are amphibians – half spirit and half animal. (The Enemy’s determination to produce such a revolting hybrid was one of the things that determined Our Father to withdraw his support from Him.) As spirits they belong to the eternal world, but as animals they inhabit time. This means that while their spirit can be directed to an eternal object, their bodies, passions, and imaginations are in continual change, for to be in time means to change. Their nearest approach to constancy, therefore, is undulation – the repeated return to a level from which they repeatedly fall back, a series of troughs and peaks. If you had watched your patient carefully you would have seen this undulation in every department of his life – his interest in his work, his affection for his friends, his physical appetites, all go up and down. As long as he lives on earth periods of emotional and bodily richness and liveliness will alternate with periods of numbness and poverty. The dryness and dulness through which your patient is now going are not, as you fondly suppose, your workmanship; they are merely a natural phenomenon which will do us no good unless you make a good use of it.

To decide what the best use of it is, you must ask what use the Enemy wants to make of it, and then do the opposite. Now it may surprise you to learn that in His efforts to get permanent possession of a soul, He relies on the troughs even more than on the peaks; some of His special favourites have gone through longer and deeper troughs than anyone else. The reason is this. To us a human is primarily good; our aim is the absorption of its will into ours, the increase of our own area of selfhood at its expense. But the obedience which the Enemy demands of men is quite a different thing. One must face the fact that all the talk about His love for men, and His service being perfect freedom, is not (as one would gladly believe) mere propaganda, but an appalling truth. He really does want to fill the universe with a lot of loathsome little replicas of Himself – creatures, whose life, on its miniature scale, will be qualitatively like His own, not because He has absorbed them but because their wills freely conform to His. We want cattle who can finally become food; He wants servants who can finally become sons. We want to suck in, He wants to give out. We are empty and would be filled; He is full and flows over. Our war aim is a world in which Our Father Below has drawn all other beings into himself: the Enemy wants a world full of beings united to Him but still distinct.

And that is where the troughs come in. You must have often wondered why the Enemy does not make more use of His power to be sensibly present to human souls in any degree He chooses and at any moment. But you now see that the Irresistible and the Indisputable are the two weapons which the very nature of His scheme forbids Him to use. Merely to over-ride a human will (as His felt presence in any but the faintest and most mitigated degree would certainly do) would be for Him useless. He cannot ravish. He can only woo. For His ignoble idea is to eat the cake and have it; the creatures are to be one with Him, but yet themselves; merely to cancel them, or assimilate them, will not serve. He is prepared to do a little overriding at the beginning. He will set them off with communications of His presence which, though faint, seem great to them, with emotional sweetness, and easy conquest over temptation. But He never allows this state of affairs to last long. Sooner or later He withdraws, if not in fact, at least from their conscious experience, all those supports and incentives. He leaves the creature to stand up on its own legs – to carry out from the will alone duties which have lost all relish. It is during such trough periods, much more than during the peak periods, that it is growing into the sort of creature He wants it to be. Hence the prayers offered in the state of dryness are those which please Him best. We can drag our patients along by continual tempting, because we design them only for the table, and the more their will is interfered with the better. He cannot “tempt” to virtue as we do to vice. He wants them to learn to walk and must therefore take away His hand; and if only the will to walk is really there He is pleased even with their stumbles. Do not be deceived, Wormwood. Our cause is never more in danger, than when a human, no longer desiring, but intending, to do our Enemy’s will, looks round upon a universe from which every trace of Him seems to have vanished, and asks why he has been forsaken, and still obeys.

But of course the troughs afford opportunities to our side also. Next week I will give you some hints on how to exploit them,

Your affectionate uncle

SCREWTAPE


Adam G.
November 15, 2012

Agellius,

I think you’re running into theodetical problems. Because if your account is true, and it doesn’t make my identity discontinuous or take away my free will to give me rapid massive accessions of knowledge and character, its hard to see why He doesn’t do so.

Now, I mentioned adding ‘character’ and you were just talking about adding knowledge. But it seems to me that the most important knowledge we would need for fully understanding God isn’t propositional knowledge but experience of the good, knowledge of virtue from the inside out, and that kind of knowledge is indistinguishable from character. I don’t see any way of adding knowledge without changing your character.

That said, let me tentatively query some of your points. First of all, on what the soul is: I’m not sure your account of what the soul is makes much sense even from a Catholic perspective. This idea that the soul is a thing and you can add a whole bunch of stuff to the gestalt of which that thing is a part, and its still you as long as you have that thing, sounds a lot more compatible with the 19th C. Mormon view that the spirit is a kind of stuff than it does with my (admittedly poor) understanding of the soul as a form.

I don’t see why God’s perspective outside time matters. If you experience yourself as a another person after some massive discontinuity, because you live in time, you are experiencing a discontinuity even if God doesn’t.

Also, I don’t see why an eternal, timeless perspective would avoid the perception of discontinuity. I can perceive discontinuities in things that I perceive whole: a painting that abruptly goes from black and white on one half to colored on the other would appear discontinuous to me without any time element being involved.


Agellius
November 15, 2012

Zen:

That’s an excellent passage, and one which I’ve read more than once before. I’m not sure what point you’re making in quoting it. I think I agree with everything in it and don’t think it conflicts with anything I have argued. Do you?


Agellius
November 15, 2012

Adam:

You write, “… if you’re account is true, and it doesn’t make my identity discontinuous or take away my free will to give me rapid massive accessions of knowledge and character, its hard to see why He doesn’t do so.”

In that case, it’s hard to see why he doesn’t make us that way in the first place. But I think we would agree that he has his reasons, even if they are mysterious to us.

You write, “Now, I mentioned adding ‘character’ and you were just talking about adding knowledge. But it seems to me that the most important knowledge we would need for fully understanding God isn’t propositional knowledge but experience of the good, knowledge of virtue from the inside out, and that kind of knowledge is indistinguishable from character. I don’t see any way of adding knowledge without changing your character.”

I think I see your point here. The way I would put it is that since faith is an act of the will, believing in God and his revelation requires goodness of the will, i.e. virtue, and not merely intellectual understanding. I’m not sure why God couldn’t add to or develop someone’s virtues in an accelerated manner.

But we may be getting far afield. My point in the first place was just that I don’t think perfect communication between God and man is impossible in every case. If you’re saying that God could not communicate everything there is to know about himself, the afterlife, etc., in our current state, I would agree, because that would require that we have God’s own complete understanding, while still living here on earth (I’ll leave alone the question whether we can or will become gods after this life). What I’m saying is that maybe God could perfectly communicate what he wills to reveal (which may not be everything that could be revealed), to certain people at certain times.

You write, “I’m not sure your account of what the soul is makes much sense even from a Catholic perspective. This idea that the soul is a thing and you can add a whole bunch of stuff to the gestalt of which that thing is a part, and its still you as long as you have that thing, sounds a lot more compatible with the 19th C. Mormon view that the spirit is a kind of stuff than it does with my (admittedly poor) understanding of the soul as a form.”

It’s hard to respond to this because I’m not sure (a) what you understand my account of the soul to be, (b) why you think it doesn’t make sense, and (c) what you mean by “adding a whole bunch of stuff to the gestalt of which that thing is a part”; nor (d) why you think my account of the soul is compatible with the 19C. Mormon view of the spirit as “a kind of stuff”. I certainly don’t see it that way.

As to your understanding of the soul as the form of the body, I agree that it is, as in every living thing. But in human beings the soul (according to Aquinas) also includes the intellect, which does not correspond with any part of the body, and therefore lives on after the body dies. This is what makes a human soul a spirit, and why plants and animals don’t live on after bodily death. I don’t pretend to instruct you, just wondering if this might help to get us on the same page.

You write, “I don’t see why God’s perspective outside time matters. If you experience yourself as a another person after some massive discontinuity, because you live in time, you are experiencing a discontinuity even if God doesn’t.”

My point was that since the intellect is immaterial, maybe it doesn’t have to experience everything in time as the body does. (I may be making some Thomistic assumptions that you don’t share.) Maybe God could miraculously place your mind in some kind of a timeless (from its own perspective) state while he accelerates the growth of the body, so that you don’t experience it as an instantaneous occurrence.

You write, “Also, I don’t see why an eternal, timeless perspective would avoid the perception of discontinuity. I can perceive discontinuities in things that I perceive whole: a painting that abruptly goes from black and white on one half to colored on the other would appear discontinuous to me without any time element being involved.”

For that matter, God sees my life as a continuous whole, even though there is a great contrast between me as an infant and me as an adult; or even more, me as an atheist and me as a Christian. These might appear as black and white sections of my life, and the latter contrast certainly might appear as a discontinuity. It’s true, as you said, that re-birth implies continuity, but it is also written that we become a new creature in baptism (2 Cor 5:17; Gal 6:15; ).


Zen
November 15, 2012

I included the passage to address the Ship of Theseus paradox we have been discussing. And in particular–You must have often wondered why the Enemy does not make more use of His power to be sensibly present to human souls in any degree He chooses and at any moment. But you now see that the Irresistible and the Indisputable are the two weapons which the very nature of His scheme forbids Him to use. Merely to over-ride a human will (as His felt presence in any but the faintest and most mitigated degree would certainly do) would be for Him useless. He cannot ravish. He can only woo. For His ignoble idea is to eat the cake and have it; the creatures are to be one with Him, but yet themselves; merely to cancel them, or assimilate them, will not serve.

Or in other words, If we are overwhelmed, which in our mortal state, would be trivially easy for the divine, we lose some of our agency. And God is critically concerned with our being able to chose. He doesn’t just want robots. He wants Sons and Daughters who willingly choose to live with Him, and by his Laws. He doesn’t want Theseus’s ship to be a mere lifeboat to an aircraft carrier, and therefore, he makes a point to not overwhelm us, so we have freedom of choice (agency).

Did that make any more sense?


Adam G.
November 15, 2012

“In that case, it’s hard to see why he doesn’t make us that way in the first place. But I think we would agree that he has his reasons, even if they are mysterious to us.”

That being so, it would explain why God cannot communicate perfectly with us–it conflicts with his reasons for having us be as we are. That being said, there could be occasional exceptions, as you say, but then its hard to see how those exceptional persons could then communicate perfectly to the rest of us.

“Maybe God could miraculously place your mind in some kind of a timeless (from its own perspective) state while he accelerates the growth of the body, so that you don’t experience it as an instantaneous occurrence. ”

Fo’ sho’. You wouldn’t even need the mind to be put in a timeless state for that to happen. You could just assume that time is sped up for you personally, or that Narnia style you are placed somewhere where you grow up but then return at the same point as when you left. My identity objection only applies to discontinuities as experienced by God or as experienced by you, not discontinuities in you as experienced by third parties.

“For that matter, God sees my life as a continuous whole, even though there is a great contrast between me as an infant and me as an adult; or even more, me as an atheist and me as a Christian. These might appear as black and white sections of my life, and the latter contrast certainly might appear as a discontinuity. It’s true, as you said, that re-birth implies continuity, but it is also written that we become a new creature in baptism”

I would say that God wouldn’t perceive you as discontinuous because he also beholds the development you undertook *between* being a child and becoming an adult. Just as you, looking at a painting that gradually transitioned from black and white at one end to full color at the other, could perceive the painting as a whole while a painting that abruptly changed midway from shade to color would not be so perceived.


Adam G.
November 15, 2012

Agellius,
agreed that the discussion is getting far afield, but continuing it anyway because its interesting–for Mormons, baptism is an act of choice (for Catholics, too, to some extent, in the baptism of desire); for Catholics there are other sacramental equivalents. The point being that there are some sacramental acts that transform the person through grace. But I would argue that they aren’t discontinuous in identity precisely because they were chosen, that is, because they are in part the result of a deliberate action by my former self. And not just deliberate action, but deliberate action of a certain type: deliberate virtuous action. Because a choice to receive a sacrament because one wishes to impress a girl or is getting paid to do so probably nullifies the efficacy of the sacrament (in most views, anyway).


Agellius
November 16, 2012

Zen:

Let me try to characterize your point and you can let me know if I’ve got it wrong. You seem to be saying, in the context of the overarching discussion, that God would not cause a major transformation in someone’s intellectual (or other) capacities, because that would overwhelm his agency.

Of course I get that. But at the same time, Catholics believe that we are simply incapable of having full and true — i.e. supernatural — faith in the Gospel without God superadding grace to our nature. Faith, hope and charity, for us, are supernatural virtues which, unlike the virtues of, e.g., temperance and fortitude, we can’t develop naturally, but can only acquire by God’s giving them to us.

I don’t consider God’s giving us supernatural virtues as gifts of grace, to constitute a removal of our agency, even though they are things we are enabled to do which otherwise we could not do on our own. And this is simply because he won’t give us supernatural gifts if we don’t want them.

I think Lewis’s point in this passage is not that no Christian may ever expect more than modest and subtle gifts and signs of God’s presence: Surely many Christians have experienced much more than that — St. Paul at his conversion, for instance? But rather that he will not “override [our] will”.

Do you disagree?


Zen
November 16, 2012

Close. Apologies for not being more clear.

I do think God will add to us, but what He does not want to do, is overwhelm us. He will strengthen us, and add to us in every way, but not in a way that would detract from our agency and freedom. He wants our choices and agency to be maximized, while also helping us to grow.


Agellius
November 16, 2012

Adam:

You write, “That being said, there could be occasional exceptions, as you say, but then its hard to see how those exceptional persons could then communicate perfectly to the rest of us.”

I agree. And if your main point is that *general* revelation cannot be perfect — revelation as it is given to all mankind, and “revelation” defined as not so much the content as the communication of the content — then probably we agree on that too. In other words, because of the way God made us, he cannot communicate perfectly with us as a race; as a general rule, he can’t get his truth through our thick skulls in our natural state. Even within the Church, many people misconstrue his teachings or fail to apply themselves to learning what they are in the first place.

Thomas Aquinas wrote that explicit revelation is necessary, not because we couldn’t know God and morality otherwise, but because in most cases it would take us our whole lives to figure it out, and even then only with an admixture of error. Revelation makes the truths of salvation plain enough that even non-philosophers can understand and begin living the Gospel at a young age.

But as you point out, it takes not only mental capacity to believe the Gospel, but also the ability to make the virtuous choice of placing our faith in it. This is a bit of an insight to me, in that you’ve caused me to think of it specifically in this manner: As St. Augustine wrote, “We don’t understand in order to believe, we believe in order to understand.” Faith itself being a virtue, understanding can’t increase unless virtue increases as well. This may explain why so many modern theologians, for all their scholarly brilliance, as often as not miss the point of the theology they purport to expound, and thereby mislead people.

You write, “My identity objection only applies to discontinuities as experienced by God or as experienced by you, not discontinuities in you as experienced by third parties.”

To be honest I’m not sure whether we’re still disagreeing.

You write, “agreed that the discussion is getting far afield, but continuing it anyway because its interesting”

I agree that it’s interesting, and I have no objection per se to going far afield. My main concern is that I might lose track of why we’re arguing certain points. : )

If I understand you right, what you’re saying now is that being transformed by grace through sacraments, does not constitute a discontinuity in identity (nor a violation of agency?) because it’s a transformation that we choose in advance. But I think a person could also choose in advance to become wiser, more insightful, more intelligent, more virtuous, etc. God’s expansion of someone’s knowledge or intelligence to become capable of perfect communication, could come in response to repeated prayers for knowledge and understanding, rather like Solomon (2 Chron. 1:7-12).

Then again, St. Paul didn’t consent in advance (to his conversion) but was basically hit over the head with a rock. : )


Bookslinger
November 16, 2012

Agellius, have you read Joseph Smith’s and Sidney Rigdon’s “Lectures on Faith”?

I think it’s available free online. I bought a used copy on ebay. It’s not canonized, though it used to be published in the same volume as Doctrine and Covenants.

I haven’t gone through the whole thing yet, but I hear that there are some non-doctrinal (or perhaps non-binding doctrine) tripping points, which is why the church stopped printing it with the D&C.

Some of your above analysis reminded me of the LoF, so I thought I’d recommend that you put it on your LDS reading list, for when you get time/inclination. And, yes, I realize that you’re a Mormon-friendly Catholic.

The format of the LoF almost makes it into something of a Mormon catechism.


chris
November 18, 2012

If you take perfect to mean, “no error” I must strongly disagree. Clearly, we can receive revelation in which there is no error.

If you take perfect to mean, “complete”. Well, this syllogism is necessarily true considering none of us has received a fullness and can be described as complete/perfect as our Father in Heaven is.


Agellius
November 19, 2012

Bookslinger:

Thanks, I will put it on my list.

[...] is in response to Adam G’s post titled “Revelation: A Syllogism” in which, and in the comments, he argues that revelation can’t be perfect, since men [...]


Adam G./
January 31, 2013

The bit towards the end about 2 Nephi 2 is really a generalization of Newton’s 3rd law, where force is replaced with the more general causation:
http://branemrys.blogspot.com/2013/01/whewell-on-newtons-laws-iv-second-and.html

[...] my argument with Adam G. begun in this post (which actually had its origin here), I offer the following, which I happened to come across [...]

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