Thinking Clearly, Choosing Wisely: The Concept of God By Jack Kerwick for Lew Rockwell
During a recent conversation with a friend, a fellow Roman Catholic who not only attends church regularly, but who often serves in Mass as both a reader and a Eucharistic minister, she revealed, to my surprise, that her quest for Truth has so far led her to put into question some of the most fundamental of Christian teachings.
She is not alone. Unfortunately, as I have gathered from my own experience as a college philosophy professor—a Christian professor who for the last 20 years has almost always taught at secular institutions—many, and perhaps most, self-identified Christians are either confused as to the ideas traditionally affirmed by their religion or they have outright repudiated them.
The first and most fundamental misconception that must be addressed prior to attending to any of the others is that surrounding the concept of God.
People, and especially self-declared Christians (at least those living in the West), are put off by the exclusivity of the claims that distinguish each religion from the other. On what basis, so goes the common question, can Christians claim to know that their God is the one true God when the adherents of countless other religions make similarly exclusive claims regarding their gods?
This question is misplaced, for it reflects a gross misunderstanding of the nature of monotheism. The latter differs from polytheism not in degree, but in kind. They are in different leagues.
In affirming the existence of one God, the monotheist doesn’t mean to deny (or affirm) that there are other deities within the world. As a monotheist, it isn’t immanent, but ultimate, reality with which he is concerned.
The God of the monotheist is a Deity that transcends the world, a Deity in whose absence there could be no world.
This means at a minimum four things:
First, the monotheist does not intend to affirm the reality of a “higher being.” It’s popularity notwithstanding, the terminology of a “higher being” is fundamentally irrelevant here, for in suggesting that the “higher being” is a being in the world, it implies that between this “higher being” and all of the other beings of which the world is populated there is a difference only of degree.
Second, neither, then, can God be the highest being, as this descriptor too implies that God is but one more being among all others, differing from others only in terms of degree.
Third, following this same chain of reasoning, it should now be clear that, common usage aside, referring to God as “the Supreme being” is also inaccurate: The Supreme being would be only another being that happens to be superior to all other beings.
Fourth, God is not a being standing over and above the world, a set of beings distinct from the set of beings that we know as the universe.
Just as Taoists say of the Tao—the Way, that which pervades, orders, begets, and sustains all things—that it is beyond being and non-being, so too can the God of the monotheist be said to be beyond being. Yet the God of the monotheist is beyond being only insofar as God transcends every conceivable universe of beings.
The monotheistic concept of God has several implications.
(1)God is infinite.
God must be unlimited. Now, “infinite” and “infinity” are terms that can indeed mean more than one thing. In the case of God’s infinity, however, we clearly can’t be talking about either infinite space or infinite time. In the case of the former, God would have to be a body, for only bodies are in space. And if God was an infinite body, this would mean that there are no other bodies, for bodies delimit one another, and an infinite body would leave no room for any others.