Pointing and Participating: The Good, The True and The Beautiful

In the Classical Christian conception, God is the source of all being, all things participate in his being. Evil does not participate in God, but rather is non-being and privation of being. Being therefore is good. Although God is beyond our finite comprehension and cannot be fully grasped through His creation, we participate and catch glimpses of His Devine nature through the Good the True and Beautiful. Even the most stringent atheist, who recognizes the Good, the True and the Beautiful is, through this recognition, pointing towards and participating in (somehow) the source of all being.

The Good

The Christian conception of moral goodness is that the good is God Himself. Humanity and creation reflect the Devine goodness, though both are tainted by sin and evil. Good has its source in God. A world without God is ultimately a world where we are ultimately the arbiters of what is morally good. If there is no higher order, the moral good is determined by the highest authority the individual accepts. The good becomes what individuals, cultures, or nations decide it is. One way of looking at the narratives of the fall in the bible is to see them as humanity’s rebellion against God’s order and instead trying to determine as individuals (Adam and Eve) or as collectives (the Tower of Babel) what the moral good is. The recognition however, that there is such a thing as a universal human nature and therefore a universal human good, even from an atheistic standpoint, is a is a recognition of and participation in the divine order. The atheist, though he/she might have a skewed conception of the moral good, is indirectly presupposing a higher authority and is ultimately pointing towards God.

Truth

Our inexplicable truth impulse: our desire to know the truth points to our basic sense that there is such a thing as truth. This longing for truth, this desire to relate properly with what is, points to the source of all being. Every truth claim, every honest pursuit presupposes and participates in God. Sounds provocative? Allow me to explain.

The materialist is in a tricky epistemic spot. As Kant pointed out, we can know of no reality beyond our experience. We cannot access the world prior to perception and hence only have access to our experiences. In essence, we are trapped in our conscious cage. We have no knowledge of any reality beyond our conscious experiences. There can, therefore, be no such a thing as “objective truth,” a monarchical view of reality, in which all that is, lies under one, all encompassing, penetrating gaze. There literally is no such a view. There are only countless, contradictory, subjective views of the world, each as valid as the other. At best, there can be a kind of “democratically determined reality,” in which consensus view decides what is true. But this is tyrannical, dissenters are dismissed and doubts discarded — until they become too numerous to be ignored.

Can there be such a thing as “objective reality” without consciousness? We cannot directly perceive reality, and is not meaningless to speak of that which cannot be perceived? If “objective reality,” has no scent, no taste, no colour, no feeling, no sound, what precisely are we talking about? If we cannot access it directly, prior to perception, can it be said to exist at all? We can imagine a reality without consciousness, but that thought is an absurdity. The fact that you can see it (in your imagination) means that it is precisely not a reality without consciousness. The very word “real,” sort of presupposes a conscious observer. The real is not imaginary, it is what is “out there” beyond our perception. However, this category of “beyond perception” calls fourth a “view from nowhere,” in which we imagine what no one sees. This is God’s view of the universe and this is the solution to our iron box of consciousness. If there is a consciousness which sees all of reality, there is also reality beyond our consciousness which is knowable. There is objective truth because there is reality and an observer.

I believe therefore, that every claim to objective truth presupposes two things; First, that there is such a thing as objective reality, and second that there is a monarchical vision, an objective “view from nowhere.” In simpler terms, the claim that there is such a thing as “objective truth,” presupposes that there is “objective reality” and a God who sees it all. When Jerry Coyne says “evolution is true,” he is actually presupposing God. He is first, reaching beyond his experience as a conscious individual and saying something about reality, what can not be directly experienced. Next, he is making a truth claim about reality, that the theory of evolution accurately describes the development of life. He is not saying, evolution best matches the evidence, or evolution seems to me to be correct, he is saying that evolution is true, it corresponds to reality. Now evolution is a grand theory of how life developed over millions of years, it encompasses a vast stretch of cosmic time. This truth claim, about vast stretches of history, presupposes a monarchical vision, a “view from nowhere.” In imagining this monarchical vision, in abstracting himself and viewing the world from God’s perspective, Coyne is purposing God. His rational capacity, which I see as the ability to abstract oneself and imitate the God-view, depends on this “view from nowhere,” which cannot exist on materialism. In this way, any truth claim is not just pure reason, it also involves an imaginative abstraction into the God’s-eye view. So, to make a claim of objective truth is to presuppose God and participate in the Divine truth.

Beauty

When we perceive the world, there is a correct and an incorrect way of interacting with reality, a correct and incorrect response to what we see. Take a beautiful landscape, there is a correct way to respond to that: this landscape is sublime. There is an incorrect way to respond to it; this landscape is hideous. If we respond incorrectly to reality, we are not in proper relationship with reality. Beauty calls fourth and we must respond appropriately. When confronted by something unquestionably beautiful, we cannot reach the conclusion that it is us imposing beauty on reality, the beautiful seems to be profoundly unquestionable. It demands to be called beautiful. We live in a world of evil and ugliness, but yet, beauty shines through, asserting itself unquestionably. To me, this seems to point beyond us. Our recognition of something, objectively beautiful forces us to believe that our standard of beauty is not our subjective preference, but transcendent. Our recognition that the beauty is not imposed by us on the world but rather imposed by the world on us, exposes this same paradox. I believe that the recognition of the beautiful and our delight in it, gives us an initiation, a revelation, a glimpse at the source of the beautiful. In our delight and recognition, we see God and we participate in His glory.

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2 thoughts on “Pointing and Participating: The Good, The True and The Beautiful

  1. Wow, this post is pleasant, my younger sister is analyzing such things, therefore I am going to let know
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    1. Just got your comment now Jason, seems to have landed up in the spam folder.
      I’m quite new with this whole blogging thing, so I’m not sure how to set up an email subscription. If you want to be notified whenever I post, the best way to do that would be to follow me on WordPress.
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      Like

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