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Belovedness, God, and Morality without Foundations By Brendan Jones O'Connor

There are no objective values. This is how Australian metaethicist J.L. Mackie began his book Ethics: Inventing Right and Wrong. His short insight bothered me greatly. Unlike a great number of other philosophical issues, ethics seems to be the most applicable to one's life by far. After all, if there are no objective values, how is one supposed to make sense of what to do? During an introductory meeting of the Syracuse University Philosophy Club, I mentioned that I try every day to defeat moral relativism, which was met with a gentle laugh from the fellow members, most of whom generally took after deflationary accounts of metaethics and metaphysics. Still, I remained caught up in the puzzle of ethics. After a great deal of thought, and some experience, I feel compelled to write my position on the matter of values, whether they are objective or not, and what is the consequence of this. By doing so, I will go to lengths to explain some of my views on spirituality, religion, and the nature of God. I will assert that ethical duty resides in the unconditional belovedness of persons, human or non-human. 1 A meaningful account of the structure of ethics, metaethics, requires an explanation of a metaphysical position. Metaphysics, a wonderful, but little understood phrase, is best understood as the grand study of what is really going on, independent of one's immediate perspective. Metaethics is a sort of metaphysical field, as it seeks to answer the question about what exactly are ethics, and what makes one want to follow them. This second point is the issue of normativity, as ethics that advocate for a binding principle or duty are considered normative ethics, as opposed to descriptive ethics, which seek to explain how agents act in various situations, without necessarily prescribing a response. While I am convinced that the most holistic response to the riddles of ethics involves the spiritual, I am fully aware that a number of different methods to address moral dilemmas and issues exist, and many of them are useful tools for their practitioners. After all, ethical decision-making is not optional, we are contently confronted with challenging situations, none of which can be deferred until a final position is realized by the ethics researchers. To quote Oxford philosopher Mary Midgley, “The power of moral judgment is, in fact, not a luxury, not a perverse indulgence of the self-righteous. It is necessity. When we judge something to be bad or good, better or worse than something else, we are taking it as an example to aim at or avoid. Without opinions of this sort, we would have no framework of comparison for our own policy, no chance of profiting by other people's insights or mistakes.” Thus, my assertion and defense of a particular metaethical view does not necessarily seek to “triumph” over other viewpoints, and, as my position maintains, a value plurality helps one come to an ethical choice. Here is my succinct statement I would like to spend this essay unpacking: There are no foundations but the unknown God, who is encountered through unconditional belovedness; it is from here we must live. God is better understood as the ultimate, infinite, transformational subjectivity, instead of an omnipotent being. The self is an illusion; as God is within us, we within God, and all of creation beloved by God, all action must be reflective of the belovedness, seeking authenticity in radical empathy. Through belovedness, we transcend the ethical.

The Metaphysical Question: Is it a rationally defensible position that all beings are beloved by God?

Yes, I say. All attempts to create an air-tight philosophical explanation of the world from first principles have failed to live up to their aspirations. We have learned about our inability to permanently link semantics to syntax. We do not have secure foundations for our knowledge. A logician's tool, the Munchhausen Trilemma outlines it:

In order to answer any meaningful question, one will eventually be lead into

1. Infinite regression (A is because of B, B is because of C, C is because of D, and so forth)

2. Circular argument (X is because of Y; Y is because of X)

3. Ex Cathedra 2 statement (P is the answer, period.)

Thus, it makes perfect sense why Wittgenstein would write, “At the core of all well-founded belief, lies belief that is unfounded.” I am not making an argument by foundations. Rather, I am constructing a coherent theory of belovedness, one that could be accepted or dismissed by one based on how useful or relevant they find it in their experience, thought, and practice. Belovedness as I have described it, the unconditional, selfless, love of God, readily available, and fully imbued in all sentient beings. To meaningfully speak of belovedness, and its consistence with a notion of God, I must say a few words about God. Firstly, I hold to a conception of God much different than the invisible, supernatural old man of popular depiction. As the great mystic St. John of the Cross would attest, the only foundation we have is the hidden God. This foundation, this supremely unknown God, cannot be spoken of in terms that belong to a Being-among-beings or a thing-among-things. I begin by rejecting the anthropomorphism of God. God does not reside in Time and Space. God cannot be tested or falsified. God is imminent, transcendent, and humanly manifest. 20 th century theologian Paul Tillich, for whom I am greatly indebted, used the term “The Ground of All Being,” and advocated phrasing such as “God is,” instead of “God is the most excellent being,” as Anselm, Aquinas, and other classic theologians would posit. The God without being is the Creator, the Redeemer, and the Sustainer. Place aside the subject-object divide; God is wholly other. 3

I take God, the Ground of All-Being, the infinite, the unconditioned, as an axiom, and I do not strive

to make some sort of deductive proof. Such logic games when applied to God seldom look convincing, and tend to prove a hollow God that does not resemble the root of all normative action, or the inspiration for all religious experience. As a brief aside, consider replacing “God” in St. Anselm's ontological proof (or more recently, Alvin Plantinga's ontological proof) with “Saturn” or “Odin,” and see if it makes any difference. If the common conception of God is little more than a grand, jealous sky-wizard, folk psychology about the self is no less inaccurate and misleading. The subjective self is frequently understood as

indivisible, fully self-reflexive, consistent, free, and rational. All meaningful psychology and linguistic analysis has bulldozed the idea that persons are enlightened, libertarian free-willed autonomous units with the aforementioned attributes. Instead, it seems as meaningful to me as to the Buddhists, the Stoics, the early Christians, and philosophers like Soren Kierkegaard that one's self-identity is an amorphous narrative, borne on nature, nurture, and complete chance. Our “indivisible selves” arise in our communities, from language, gender expression, social mores, economic values, interpersonal skills, and so forth. The self arises from a broader system, and from the unchosen genetic and innate material in us. In short, your “self” rises out of, and belongs to, the greater natural world; the assumed duality between our subjective experience and the world around us is a deep-seated mistake. Moreover, everybody who has had a meaningful spiritual experience, no matter what religious tradition, will describe a loss-of-self and a “One-ness,” between them and the world. This concept can be called Non- duality, and is a centerpiece of most contemplative faiths.

I do not see myself as a metaphysical Materialist, the position that the universe consists of physical

items and forces and nothing else. Rather, this non-duality, this coming-together of the mental/physical,

of the subjective/objective, of the finite/absolute, is an encounter with the Ground of All-Being. American philosopher and author of the first psychology textbook William James named this sort of

2 Latin for “Out of the Chair,” as an absolute ruler would issue an edict.

position “Neutral Monism,” where the subjective experience and objective is of the same irreducible substance, which I feel comfortable postulating as God. The love of God, which I will call in its Greek name Agape for the duration of the paper to remove it from the connotations of consumerist hyper- sentimentalism around the word “Love,” pervades all sentient beings, and all thing, as we are living within God, and God abounds within us. Reach out your hand, the Agape is closer to you than your hand. God may be wholly other, but God is not an other. Some evangelicals describe God as “A Mind,” which I feel uncomfortable with. While I am sympathetic to models of consciousness that do not reduce mind-states to brain-states, it is very clear to me that the contents and functioning of a mind hinge on the material construction and empirical experience of a brain (or computer system, if computers can in fact be conscious, a topic on which I'm not as well-read). Speaking of God as “A Mind” seems like just another step to anthropomorphize God, a task I reject. If I cannot prove God, and nor do I seek to, than what about the greatest objection to God, the Problem of Evil? St. Thomas Aquinas famously listed five argument for the existence of God in his Summa Theologica, but he positioned only one potential argument that could be used as a logical proof against God: the puzzlement to why there is suffering if a maximally Good, benevolent, all-powerful, all-knowing God exists. Many Christians tend to sidestep this question without giving it its due. This of course is unfortunate, as grappling with the problem is a way to get to an understanding of the utmost belovedness from God. Really, the logical conflict of the problem of suffering exists if, and only if, we presuppose the God of Classic Theism, which I do not. An attempt to explain the problem of evil is called a theodicy. One of the most famous theodicies comes from the German mathematician Gottfried Leibniz, who obsessed about the problem of evil to such a great degree that much of his metaphysics are a construction to solve the matter. 4 Leibniz concluded that God created the “Best of all possible worlds.” Suffering, then, factors into the broader picture of God's grand plan. While I am obviously caricaturization an extensive system, Leibniz' basic point abounds in common conversation. How often does one hear, “Everything happens for a reason,” or “Everything works out in the end,” repeated without so much as a question about its validity? Does everything work out in the end? Are all events directly contributing to some grand meaning? Can we really not imagine a better world? If we actually believed that the suffering of the world comes about from the direct will of God, then God would be responsible for genocide, famine, disease, slavery, estrangement, despotic rule, natural disasters, and other unthinkable cruelty. Had I set out to write a longer essay, I would spend more time addressing this theodicy, but for the purposes of my thesis, I believe that intuition, and a familiarity with history is sufficient grounds for reason to reject this position. Variations of the “Best of All Possible Worlds” theodicy frequently arise when one is consoling somebody in loss. I find this somewhat unfortunate, as somebody in grief is not some grease fire that needs to be put out as fast as possible, they are a human being, and grieving is a natural process in coming to terms with suffering. Immediately jumping to iconography of heaven and loved ones in the Hands of God, if anything, places a blame on the grieving parent for not being happy that their dead baby gets to dance with the angels in the ethereal realm. But for those who have spent some time thinking over the Problem of Evil, the Free-Will Response is perhaps the most popular. As its advocates say, God wants the authentic love and response of human beings, thus He gave us free will. The suffering of the world comes out of our misuse of this gift, thus God is not morally liable for war, rape, child molestation, genocide, slavery, human trafficking, economic oppression, etc. I find this view problematic for a number of reasons. The Free-Will Defense rests in a critical misunderstanding of the will. Will is the impulse, the drive,

the inclination of one's internal thought process. There are two major ways to understand “Free-Will” without denying its existence, libertarian and compatiblist. Libertarian free will (no relation to the political views of Ayn Rand and Murray Rothbard 5 ) suggests that the origins of our drives, desires, frames of thought etc. are created by the individual. Logically, this is a difficult claim, as it immediately leads to an infinite regress. If all your actions are deliberated by your will, than how does your will get to its position of inclination? Is there another layer of willing above that? Secondly, Libertarian Free Will implies that human behavior is indeterministic, which is empirically not the case. Any sociologist can dismantle the idea of “A self-made man,” and 160 years of evolutionary biology, psychology, and environmental sociology, while seldom agreeing about human tendencies with the same sort of accuracy as a physicist discussing terrestrial gravity, can conclude our inner workings are a meeting grounds of nature and nurture, which do much more to map out our behaviors than a radical individualist would like to confess. Adherents to libertarian free will, which is closest to Western culture's common intuition on the matter of will, want to believe one's will exists and operates independent and above physical causation, making it “free” of the (mostly) deterministic laws of physics. Compatiblists would accept that the origins and configurations of our wills are not entirely of one's own construction, and are expressed through the laws of physics, but freedom rests in how one's actions are not coerced by an outside force, unless somebody is literately pointing a gun at one's head. I have the ability to conceive of other possibilities, and in knowing I could act on other possibilities, though I do not, I am free. Theologically speaking, 18 th century American theologian Jonathan Edwards put it best: We can do as we please, but we can not please what we please. Martin Luther, too, argued for “The Bondage of the Will,” maintaining that the force of Sin prevents us from being wholly good or in control of our behaviors. This is the position of St. Paul, read the Epistle to the Romans, especially the seventh chapter. Our wills are a network of suggestions, conditioning, social developments, physical limitations, memories, diet, intuitions. We cannot choose our wills anymore than we can choose to whom and to what we are attracted. We can choose whether we act on these wills or not. In other words, our wills are not entirely our own, as they are a compilation of causal factors (social, biological, spiritual, and otherwise) but our actions are accountable to us, the actor. It does not follow that God would craft human beings with an outrageous propensity for evil rooted in our biology, then wash his hands of the matter by claiming that the free will of human beings absolves Him of any blame. Easily, our brains could have been constructed in such a way that we would find murder, torture, rape, discrimination less desirable, and cooperation more so. For example, virtually every culture has a taboo against incest and cannibalism. Why couldn't the God of Classic Theism have given us an ampted-up natural sense of empathy toward others? My final, and most damning remarks on the Free-Will defense: it is bafflingly anthropocentric. What, then, do we make of the continuous, egregious suffering of non-human animals in nature? Human beings evolved out of intelligent primates. When did we become full-blown humans with this magical, self-creating, independent free-will? Meanwhile, across the animal kingdom, we observe mothers loving for their children, friendships being made, pay, work, communities, mourning, joy, sexual attraction, innovation, a desire for freedom, creativity, and an ability to suffer. In the millions of years before human beings began gathering and developing culture, complex organisms suffered from disease, emotional estrangement, injury, and violent death. Why? For what purpose? This suffering goes unaccounted for in the Free-Will Defense, and for this, I decisively reject its possibility, as it is internally contradictory. While there are other theodicies, I believe they are beside the point; God, as I understand Her 6 , is the

5 Although, most American political libertarians I imagine hold to a version of libertarian free will.

utmost goodness, wholeness, and holiness that holds the universe together. God does not need to be defended from charges like a criminal. If a conception of God makes God somehow liable for evil and suffering, that conception rests in a faulty anthropocentric model of God-as-General-Manager that I reject. An ordained friend once told me, “Describe the God you don't believe in, and I almost certainly do not believe in Him either.” The God of wholeness, holiness, all good and all gifts can only be

understood if we abandon the idea that God is omnipotent. In short, I bite the bullet: God is not All- Powerful, or at least not in the sense it was explained to you in first grade. Understand me, it is not that I am attempting to degrade God, but that I am asserting a differing understanding of the nature of God, one in which the statement “God is an omnipotent being” as semantically null as “Colorless green ideas sleep furiously,” unless it is understood as analogy, which accords with the theology of most of the Church Fathers. It might help to remember the experience of Elijah: God was not in the earthquake, God was not in the fire, but God was in the silence. In a great paradox, God is not omnipotent in the style of the Pagan gods; God is much, much greater. By cutting the Gordian knot of theodicies, we can assert without contradiction that the Creator, Sustainer, and Redeemer loves us, and all life, unconditionally.

17 th century mathematician and mystic Blaise Pascal wrote in his work Pensees, that he sought not

the God of the philosophers and scholars, but the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Reflecting on this point will help address the immediate problem following my outline of God: If one is to accept that God could be “The Ground of All-Being,” “Beyond the Subject-object divide,” and not possessing direct, coercive, causal power, then how does one come to understand God as the source of belovedness, all Agape love, transcendence, and ultimate telos? 7 It would seem easier to believe that the God found in a naïve reading of the Old Testament could receive our prayers, communicate with us, and love us individually, because He (and notice how it's a definitive male) is effectively a supernatural being that exists within the universe. While my ontology of God may seem unconventional, I believe it corresponds to Pascal's notion of the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (henceforth known as GAIJ). The term “God of the Philosophers and Scholars” is almost certainly a reference to deism, like that of Thomas Jefferson, Voltaire, and probably Einstein. If the deist God created the cosmos and left it alone, then He is merely a natural characteristic of the universe, deducible by reason, and without much real consiquence, much less prayer and admiration. Conversely, GAIJ is known through community, tradition, revelation, and personal experience. GAIJ means nothing if not a way of life, an existential response to the situations of one's birth. When I write of belovedness as an inherent, universal property of all life, I intend to mirror Pascal's insistence that faith is of utmost relevance to one's conduct. Similarly, if one does not accept the reality of universal belovedness of all beings, then I cannot imagine why anyone would bother with any of this God-Talk, except to speak of counter-factuals and curiosities. We might as well speculate about the upcoming results of unicorn racing across the nth dimension if we are to talk about things unknown, unknowable, and without consequence. But I do believe an understanding of God can affect one on a personal, psychological, existential, and communal level, especially in the concept of belovedness. Putting aside centuries of theological conflict, allow us to posit the triune God as Creator, Sustainer, and Redeemer. Much like how Kant's three maxims of the Categorical Imperative make the same broader argument, but from a different standpoint, the three titles I have provided are different ways of comprehending belovedness.

CREATOR: All things come from God. Thus, all creatures share a universal origin. We are beloved in our introduction from non-being into being.

SUSTAINER: Strength and direction come to all beings from sources outside of themselves. God

provides courage, pursuasion, virtue, and most of all, agape. We are beloved, unconditionally.

REDEEMER: The Kingdom of God is the teleological end of all virtue. The Kingdom is not some far- off place, but something achievable in this world. The God-as-Redeemer is always present, and all- forgiving, as well as subversive, challenging, and radical. We are beloved, and through this belovedness, we are tasked with co-creating the new Kingdom.

The Metaethical Question: How does unconditional Belovedness affect a framework of morality?

There are objective values. Not necessarily self-evident values, absolute values, axiomatic values, or culturally-irrespective values, but objective values nevertheless. Objective values, or virtues as I shall describe further in this essay, are the practices, attitudes, and dispositions that recognize the belovedness of all life, and the belovedness vested into oneself. To put this answer to the Metaethical Question as a series of reflections: How would we treat each other, how would we configure society if we believed that every sentient being is beloved by God? How would we treat each other if we knew that God, the utmost of Good and Holiness, is closer to us than imaginable? That God empowers all of us to bring about His Kingdom on Earth? For those unfamiliar with the rich tradition of ethical philosophy, 18 th century Scottish Lawyer David Hume articulated the fundamental challenge of determining what is ethical: The Is-Ought Problem. If we know the world principally through experience, then we are aware of “Is-Statements,” observations, correlations, facts, and scientific laws. Observation, and its collection of “Is-statements” do not link to morality, which Hume noted consists of “Ought-Statements.” Hume did not mean that ethics could not exist, he just did not believe there could be a grounded, definitive universal ethical pattern to arise from observation, as there is nothing in physics, chemistry, biology, anthropology, or archeology that can prescribe a way of life. To make up for this, he figured that ethics are based out of an emotional reaction, an attempt to appeal to an ideal, impartial observer. Metaethics are any attempt to bridge description to the prescription. Recently, author Sam Harris wrote a book entitled The Moral Landscape, in which he insisted that neurobiology would provide a definitive answer as to what is moral or not. According to him, actions that produce a higher rate of well-being are moral. Along with being a reductive account that chooses to appeal to EKG readings of brains as a definitive reading of morality, Harris presents the ethical theory of consequentialism (where moral values are determined by consequences) as if it were a new idea. It isn't. And a host of thinkers who will be remembered much longer than Dr. Harris have levied several strong criticisms of such a naïve consequentialism. The critique of consequentialism requires a much longer space than the focus of this essay, but I would like to assert that I reject any ethical system framed by an economic of pleasure and pain. Consequentialism does not recognize the inherent belovedness of a life. Sam Harris' airport non-fiction book refused to discuss any of the previous work in ethical theory, as he believes neuro-science can provide the answers to metaethics. Admittedly, I too sometimes find metaethics a tad frustrating. Ethics are lived by everybody, everyday. Major issues in practical ethics, like abortion, euthanasia, torture, drug decriminalization, have massive public and personal implications, and most everybody has some sort of opinion. Metaethics, like a great deal of philosophy, involves a precise jargon fairly confounding to those outside the field. Moreover, metaethics focuses on the foundations (or lack thereof) in ethics, how this actually changes our life practices can be difficult to notice. People don't seem to consult ethical theories before acting, usually one receives an intuition, a notice from one's conscience, and then struggles to follow or avoid that message. Thus, do metaethics even matter, or are they just an attempt to make a formal system out of ethics where no formal system has any business of being made? While these concerns are real, I believe they point towards a meaningful conclusion about the

practice of ethics: morality cannot be reduced to a value-free set of axioms. The two major metaethical theories to come out of the Enlightenment, consiquentialism and deontology, both seek to find a universal basis for their theory, independent of cultural mores, values, or historical practice. While I have already touched on consiquentialism, I also find deontological ethics to be problematic, but not completely without use. Its extensive focus on the mythical autonomous individual and fixation on the concept of rights are a troubling way to root one's ethics, as find the autonomous self to be a myth, and I do not believe in natural or self-evident rights. Prior to the age of Locke, Rousseau, Kant, Hobbes, and Madison, there was no talk of “Natural Rights.” If one asserts that rights exist outside of a convenient legal fiction, then where do these rights come from? How are they determined? A classic response is “From God,” which immediately raises the question whether God's foreordained rights for Man included women and ethnic minorities, or whether slavery, apartheid, and domestic and child abuse, as are permitted in sections of the Bible, are part of these untouchable, absolute “Natural Rights.” The appeal to natural rights is little more than a fallacious appeal to authority, and historically a method for oppressors to justify their effrontery unto the belovedness of the downtrodden. For the secular lot, natural rights are sometimes invoked “From Reason,” which is an equally troubling assertion. As I maintain in my thesis, we have no foundations outside of belovedness, and a priori reason will not lead to a universal set of rights that exist independent of culture, experience, geography, and economics. Questions of law may be addressed by referring to rights, but moral situations can almost never be meaningfully worked out by immediately justifying one's actions through the supposed right one has to do something. The socially agreed-upon perimeters to accomplish a certain task without irking the coercive forces of a law enforcement body does not make what one does moral. Rights, as codified in law, fall short from recognizing the unconditional belovedness of all beings. While rights are an invention, belovedness is a qualification, and a dignification of life, known to human beings through the faculty of empathy. Empathy allows one to recognize the great non-duality. Christ states that the Torah can be understood as two laws, quoting directly out of the King James Version, which makes up for its poor translation with wonderful literary quality, "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” I identify these two commandments as “The Agape Principle,” for which follows if one accepts universal belovedness. Agape is the utmost virtue, in all times, in all places, with all people. If all beings are imbued with the love of God, and reflect this agape, then how could one justify acting in such a way that does not recognize the belovedness of that human being, of that sentient life form? This, of course, leaves a lot of gray area. It's supposed to. The Agape Principle recognizes that all action is situational, and what matters is the character, the intention behind the action. In other words, consiquentialist and deontological ethics focus on what to do and what not to do, the Agape principle focuses on how one ought to be, above, beyond, and before any sort of ethical dilemma. These two commandments are of course linked. The latter is a recognition of the belovedness of all people in our daily practices and attitudes. The former is a call to examine all of creation, which is in God and God is within, and work to bring about the transformation of the Kingdom. Morality is a constant appraisal of virtue, a dialogue of when virtues are to be kept and when they are to be abandoned, not just a set of negative laws. In fact, eliminate any analogy between a legal system and virtue, conflating those two produces the oppressive system of moralism. 8 The mistake of moralism is the attempt to use the normative language and rhetorical authority of ethics to induce fear, disgust, shame, and derision in others. If the morality of God rests in making us

united in non-duality, mutual experience, and unconditional Agape. Moralism is rooted in staking a claim in a “Natural Order” of things that needs to be maintained, and heap blame on those who might reasonably challenge the standings of those with power. But since there are no foundations, cultural or otherwise, beyond the Unknown Ground of All Being, this project is logically inconsistent, and cannot speak meaningfully to the Agape Principle. Conversely, why would so many hospitals name themselves “St. Jude,” after the patron saint of lost causes? The Agape Principle does away with utilitarian calculations; people are beloved by the same God, they are an end unto themselves unto the Kingdom. Throw away stark dualism, throw away the autonomous, individual self, throw away the fiction of natural rights, and one is left with a revelation counter to all the oppressive forces of individualistic society: Our lives are not our own. Act on this principle. As result of belovedness, our morality must be seen as a stepping stone to the Kingdom of God, the ultimate telos. The Kingdom is not necessarily some alternate dimension where one gets to escape all the pain and suffering of the world. Rather, the kingdom will be here, on this Earth. And not at the end of chronological history, it is an event that emerges where belovedness is recognized and lived-through. God's Kingdom will be radically different than ours. The last shall be first, and the first shall be last. In the Bible, we begin by leaving the Garden of Eden. In the end, we will be living in the City of God, all the people, together. In the kingdom, we shall simply be. And it will be good.

One of the greatest frustrations I have with continental philosophy (e.g. Heidegger, Sartre, Foucault, Hegal) is how sweeping ideas are introduced by the means of assertion, obfuscation, and weak historical evidence. Not wanting to mimic that style, I remind the reader that I began this essay by claiming how I sought to describe a model of ethics rooted in a religious tradition, knowing that I could not decisively prove every point. This has been my case that a recognition of belovedness is the most useful way to live.

The Kingdom of God is within you.