Tuesday, May 24, 2016

On being real

A couple of days ago, I argued that one thing we can take away from the doctrine of the Trinity is its concern for the God who is.  That is to say, the doctrine treats God as having real existence, and therefore particular existence - he is in this way, and to fail to acknowledge that is simply not to know him.  This is a property of real things: they occupy space, physically or conceptually, and we bump up against them, literally or metaphorically.  Whilst they can be (must be) interpreted - which is to say, there must be some interaction between my understanding and the real existing thing - they cannot be simply reimagined without denying their reality.

I'm not sure I could trace this historically, but I'm confident that logically the lack of belief in a real existing God leads to a loss of belief in real existing humanity.  Real existing humanity - both in the general sense and in the more acute sense in which I am myself an instance thereof - has a genuine shape, occupies genuine space.  It cannot be reimagined without denying its reality.  But we must reimagine humanity; we must claim for ourselves total sovereignty over our own humanity.  Do we notice than in claiming this sovereignty at this level we destroy (in so far as it lies with us) the very thing we want to rule over?  We become kings and queens of dreams, and more often than not of nightmares.

Of course we see this is in the arena of sexuality and gender, but the most extraordinary and terrible example I can think of relates to abortion.  Behold the power of imagination!  The joyfully expectant mother carries a baby; the unfortunate woman with an unwanted pregnancy has nothing but a collection of cells.  The longed for baby is not a foetus but a person, already loved; the undesired ball of matter is nothing but an excrescence, to be removed.  We have become sovereign over our own reality, and can decide what should live and what should die.

A big caveat: I have to put this starkly and horrifically, because that is the shape of the reality.  But I know that this is not how it feels for people going through this sort of thing.  I suspect that the decision to abort more often than not feels like helplessness and not sovereignty.  I know that it is pain and anguish and not at all the simple choice painted here.  I know that.  But if we step back: what allowed these choices to become choices at all, however anguished?

But the bitter truth is that human beings are real.  We are real.  I am real.  I cannot reimagine myself without denying myself.  In reality, I cannot be absolutely sovereign over myself or anyone or anything else.  I, and all other real things, are to some extent given; I am not a dream or a nightmare, but a created person.  At some point, we will bump up against the reality of humanity - our own and that of others.  And at some point, even if it is not until the Judgement, we will bump up against the reality of the God who is there and who gave us all of our reality.  Then what will we say?


  1. I'm coming to believe it was first the belief that God is absent, or exists to serve our ends, that led to the situation you describe. The late Dame Frances Yates is worth a read: 'The Rosicrucian Enlightenment' and 'The Occult Philosophy in the Elizabethan Age' show how occultic thought had a much larger effect on nascent secular science and theory than you'd think - much occultism sharing the same purpose as liberal humanism in seeking to shape the world however we like and overcome any and all human limitations.

    1. Not come across these books before - will take a look, thanks. It would be interesting to trace it out historically, but it is hard not to basically see Genesis 3 echoing through the whole set up.

  2. No problem. There's some good stuff on this (stridently Russian Orthodox) blog with more contemporary application: