An Unknowable God

I knew this argument existed, that God, or whatever we choose to call Him, is inherently unknowable.  I had just never run into it before until my discussion with Nathan.

The Argument . . .

as put forth by Nathan goes something like this (and this is pretty close to the Baha’i faith):  Any attempt to apply any kind of knowledge of or characteristics to God is futile.  It is not only futile as humans have so far attempted it, but there is no valid way to understand God.  He is, in his very nature, unknowable.  How could we possibly understand God with our limited human capacity? Humans, in an attempt to fulfill their desire to understand and know God, have come up with all kinds of metaphors, similes, fabrications, analogies, half-truths and distortions. 

As such, all these different manifestations of futile attempts to understand God, also known as the different religions in the world, are all equal in their misrepresentation of God.  They all, individually, may provide a unique use to humanity and a unique detriment to humanity but are all equal in their truth value (which isn’t much).  Any truth claim made by any religion is only true under their system and any claim that their truth is a “universal truth” is pure arrogance.  Instead of attempting to know an unknowable God, or fighting over which religion has “more” truth, we should attempt to better humanity and do our part to cease suffering as much as we can.

Surprise Confession

To a certain extent, I agree.  Any claim to “know” God, is only true under the human perspective, only true as far as our limited understand goes.  However, if I claim to know that “God is love” and I couldn’t possibly understand the full extent of that characteristic due to my limited capacity, that doesn’t mean “God is love” is a false claim.  It’s a true claim that my limited human brain can’t fully understand.  It’s still true.  First assuming that we can “fully” understand ANYTHING, to say that since we can’t “fully” understand God truths so therefore NO God truths exist, is irrational.  It’s throwing out the baby with the bathwater.

Problem #1:  The Presupposition

Presuppositionsare the most basic of our beliefs.  They are pre-assumptions, so to speak, that we use to reason through any issue we come across.  They form the foundation for what becomes our worldview.  For me and Nathan, “God exists” is the most basic presupposition of our worldview.  However, Nathan adds a presupposition that is just as basic to him as “God exists”; this presupposition is, “God is unknowable”. 

The astute philosopher will ask Nathan, “How do you know ‘God is unknowable’?”.  Once this question is asked, one immediately realizes that Nathan’s position is self-defeating.  Let me demonstrate.  Nathan’s position is that “God is Love” or any claim of that nature is a futile claim, inherently pointless in our attempt to understand a characteristic of god.  However, “God is unknowable” is claiming to understand a characteristic of God!  It’s a claim equal in structure and nature as “God is Love”, a claim Nathan says is futile!  Bottom line is this; using his own argument, Nathan can’t know that “God is unknowable”.  But further than that, it is an absolute attribute of his own construction that he is forcing upon God.

Problem #2:  The Worldview is What it Argues Against

What this Baha’i worldview objects the most to is each religion’s assertion that they have “THE truth”.  Islam, Christianity, Judaism etc are projecting their “truth” on the rest of humanity.  Unfortunately, the Baha’i faith’s worldview is no different.  Nathan is projecting the “truth” of his “God is unknowable” view on the religions of the world!  If I said to Nathan, “Jesus is the Christ, the savior of humanity”, Nathan would counter with “Don’t force your truth on me because God is unknowable, you can’t possible know that Jesus is the Christ.”  But Nathan, aren’t you forcing your view that I “cannot know” that Jesus is the Christ upon ME?

To Nathan

I want to directly respond to Nathan in order to give his previous post it’s due respect and also to show great examples of his worldview in action.

“I believe that all attempts to understand God become soiled by our limited human capacity for understanding.”

As I stated above, I agree with that.

” “God is Love” is one of the many examples of strategies we use to try to explain an essentially unknowable entity.”

This is your presupposition in action, a presupposition I showed to be self-defeating

“Unfortunately, in the process of translating and interpreting these truths, people have often misconstrued or misunderstood even the limited pieces that God has revealed and often they are twisted to suit particular people’s agendas.”

I agree, but to take this and say, “therefore there is no truth” is throwing out the baby with the bathwater.

“Religion has been revealed progressively from the same God through different prophets/messengers, who at different times through history and in different locations come to provide the teachings of God to help us carry forward an ever advancing civilization.”

Although this is a completely different topic in itself, I will respond to this briefly.  In order for religious revelation to “progressive” it must also be un-contradictory.  However, the truth claims of Joseph Smith, Mohammad and Jesus are completely opposite.  Joseph told us we could all become gods just like Elohim while Jesus claimed there is only One God.  Muhammad told us to slay infidels where we find them while Jesus told us to turn the other cheek and “as far as it depends on you, be at peace with ALL men” (emphasis added).  These revelation can’t possibly be progressive as they are obviously contradictory.  And frankly, Nathan, to claim otherwise is to be ignorant of the theology of each religion.

“I interpret it as you being unable to see that the Bible is simply one of God’s manifestations that was useful and is useful for particular reasons known only to God.”

In this Bible, Jesus claimed to be “THE Way, THE Truth and THE Life,” in contrast to what you are saying which is that Jesus is A way and A truth.  Jesus’ claim to be “THE” is either true or untrue.  There is no “progressive revelation to humanity” type of middle ground with this claim.  It’s either true or not, Jesus is either lying or crazy or correct.  Jesus also said, “No one comes to the Father except through me.”  How does this “No one” claim mesh with your “progressive” position?  It doesn’t.  It’s another “either/or” claim that you must decide is either true or untrue.  It can’t be both. 

“I believe by belittling God and assuming he is so simple as to be revealed in a single text is extremely limiting to the advancement of our understanding and our progress.”

You are the only one asserting that God can be seen as “simple” and “limited” as He is described in the Bible.  This is not how the Bible describes God.

I am also glad to continue this conversation until one of us decides we have reached that point where there is no purpose in carrying on.  Like I said, this is a different view point that I’m happy to explore with you.

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10 Comments on “An Unknowable God”

  1. Nathan Says:

    Hey Eric, Thanks for devoting a post to me. I appreciate you taking the time to respond to my explanation of the Baha’i faith. I find your response from the Christian worldview to be very interesting. I always enjoy discussing and seeing the various different interpretations of my faith that people take.

    Interestingly, the “arguments” against the unity of God are usually based on my inability to properly explain the concepts or simple misunderstandings of the concept. Unfortunately, language is a complicated tool and its often difficult to express an idea (especially of a spiritual nature) fully to others. I apologize for making you write portions of the post due to my inability to explain the concept in the correct way. Still, this is useful because it will help me in the future with other discussions.

    I am glad we can both admit to presuppositions. Here is one of your presuppositions, please feel free to correct me if I am wrong: The bible’s explanation of God is the beginning and end of the story. The bible explanation is true and the only useful tool we have in our arsenal to understanding God. Furthermore, any other claimed manifestations of God are in no way divinely inspired. Only the bible is filled with all the truth of God.

    In this way, right out of the gate, (as this is one of your underlying beliefs) I could take your quote about my presuppositions:

    “For me and Nathan, “God exists” is the most basic presupposition of our worldview. However, Nathan adds a presupposition that is just as basic to him as “God exists”; this presupposition is, “God is unknowable”.”

    and make it:

    For me and Eric, “God exists” is the most basic presupposition of our worldview. However, Eric adds a presupposition that is just as basic to him as “God exists”; this presupposition is, “the Bible’s view of God is the whole and complete story and nearly all true in the absolute sense”.

    Obviously to my perspective, this is essentially the same as boasting that a single manifestation at a particular time is the only one that is useful. You have to understand that this would seem (in my worldview) just as irrational as claiming a particular lesson with my best professor is the only class I need to go to for the whole year to understand quantum physics.

    A few things I just want to help clarify because I think I made the “unknowable” statements in a way that has mislead your post.

    I enjoyed reading your views on my position being self-defeating. I only wish I had explained it without using the word futile so many times because I totally overemphasized the unknowable part and missed explaining the core which is the idea of progressive understanding.

    When I say ‘God is unknowable’, I mean that God is outside our ability to understand all at once or understand completely. For instance, I may know how to drive a car, or change a tire and as such I could claim that I understand the concept of a car. However, having a complete understanding of even mundane things (cars, computers, insert any topic) is well-beyond our current level of understanding when you begin to break it down. Even topics which are totally within the general scope of accepted every day life are essentially unknowable in their entirety.

    Take any topic such as biology or history. First off, we don’t have any context when we are born so our understanding is null. Then as we progress through school, we first learn a really simple and basic version of biology or history which is highly specific to helping us at that stage. The history we learn here is often missing huge chunks, we skip around, they tell certain mistruths (Christopher Columbus discovered the earth was round, etc). As our ability to understand progresses, we learn additional information about history that is progressively true but also it becomes distinctly different and almost entirely new from the basic history taken in 7th grade and even now that I have graduated College and I have a fairly good understanding of history, I wouldn’t say I definitively ‘know’ biology or ‘know’ history and I suspect even doctors would agree their knowledge is extremely limited on these topics.

    If we acknowledge that even basic topics useful everyday are far beyond our human comprehension at this current point in time, obviously that understanding doesn’t get better as we go back in time. People at the time of the romans had almost no understanding of biology as we think of it today. Even if someone has time travelled a book about biology today back to Roman times and had a king read it, the chance that he would honestly completely comprehend even our understanding today is little to none. If this is the case that things we can perceive and think about are always outside out realm of understanding (even man-made things which were the result of many specialized workers). We are a constantly advancing civilization and our level of understanding on things is almost necessarily improving all the time.

    “Nathan’s position is that “God is Love” or any claim of that nature is a futile claim, inherently pointless in our attempt to understand a characteristic of god.”

    I shouldn’t have used the word futile. It makes it sound as if I believe attempting to understand God is entirely fruitless. This is not true because even though we cannot understand an entity directly right now at our current point in time, doesn’t mean we cannot understand it through strategies. Saying “God is Love” is not a futile claim in that it is useless to us. Saying those types of claims are useful to us by attempting to explain a small piece of God in a way we can all understand. It is a strategy for helping us understand God in a way that makes sense to us. This is not pointless. Now, does this explanation actually truly represent God in a 100% accurate fashion? Probably not but trying to get 100% (the whole story) about God is again relatively unimportant and arguably impossible. Instead these strategies of explaining God and his characteristics in a way that we can understand is extremely important! It is the only way we can even try to understand the entity at all. Just as someone may explain quantum physics to me using metaphors, analogies, anecdotes, and this allows me to grasp characteristics of something that I cannot currently understand, such is the same with our strategies for understanding God. So I am not trying to tell you to stop saying “God is Love” if that’s what your manifestation tells you to believe, I am simply explaining that it is a tool used to help us in our limited understanding to connect with God.

    “First assuming that we can “fully” understand ANYTHING, to say that since we can’t “fully” understand God truths so therefore NO God truths exist, is irrational.”

    Wow if that’s what you think I am saying then again I apologize for forcing you to argue against a belief that isn’t held. I never said that NO God truths exist. In fact, I believe exactly the opposite. God would exist whether we were here to understand him or not. There are plenty of truths about God, it’s just they we need to be fed these in a specific way over time and even then we will never fully understand them. We will understand them to the extent that the entity desires because he is the one choosing the form of the message for each manifestation. However, again the worldview come into play. Because you believe that the Bible is the only ‘true’ manifestation of information about God then this forces you to believe that all the statements within are all essentially 100% objectively true as if a single manifestation could explain everything we need to know about God.

    “However, “God is unknowable” is claiming to understand a characteristic of God! It’s a claim equal in structure and nature as “God is Love”, a claim Nathan says is futile!”

    Again this doesn’t accurately refute my belief at all and merely goes to show that I have failed to explain it or there isn’t yet sufficient context. God is so powerful and great that he has realized our progressive and advancing nature and chosen to reveal himself in ways which WE CAN UNDERSTAND expertly crafting his message for the particular time, place, audience, culture and current level of understanding. I don’t think anyone would argue that we can understand a complete picture of God or his characteristics. I am simply positing that the manifestations are not the whole story and you believe that the Bible is. I claim he is revealing himself in a progressive fashion and you believe he has revealed himself in a specific text. We both are making claims here. You claim that “God is Love” because that is what it says in the Bible (and through the manifestations you subscribe to). Any of your claims of knowing specific attributes about God come from your understanding that the Bible is true and the statements about God are complete. All I am saying is that they are not complete but instead God specifically tuned the message so that it would help them (and us) advance and progress in their ability to connect with God. Also, again the manifestations are from God but the Bible itself is man-made and was canonized by a man and not God. God gives us the messages in ways we can understand. It is up to us and our flawed understandings to actually record and canonize. This is why a single text can never be taken as being completely true. However, understanding it in the context of human advancement is still important.

    “using his own argument, Nathan can’t know that “God is unknowable”. But further than that, it is an absolute attribute of his own construction that he is forcing upon God.”

    If after my long explanation, if you still believe this statement to be true of my beliefs then I think we should stop because I don’t think this discussion can progress if my ability to explain the idea is this ineffective. The statement above is absolutely a non-sequitor from my perspective. In fact, claiming that one manifestation is the only true one and that all information inside is completely correct is in my opinion an absolute attribute that you are putting onto God. In other words, positing that a specific set of text contains a complete account of God is frankly in my view the claim being placed on God that is patently untrue. The default position is to be humble and understand our position in the universe and that our understanding of EVERYTHING is limited and this is especially true for God which is exactly WHY he explains things in ways that are limited and progressive to help us understand.

    “I agree, but to take this and say, “therefore there is no truth” is throwing out the baby with the bathwater.”

    Again this is a misrepresenation. There are absolutely truths about God that exist independently from our understanding. I think it is presumptuous to assume that we understand any of these “truths” in a concrete way but through the use of strategies and specific presentation as revealed in the messages, we can do our best to understand the concept incompletely. What is so wrong with not knowing a concept in its entirety? Do you really believe I think we shouldn’t try to understand aspects of God’s message? In fact, I think we should study all the manifestations because these are the only accounts we have from the past of previously revealed messages. These messages ARE understandable and useful. They just aren’t the full picture (far from it), to be considered as the only truth (they are merely a message) or to be taken as absolute truths that weren’t toned down and crafted to be useful for a particular set of people

    “These revelation can’t possibly be progressive as they are obviously contradictory. And frankly, Nathan, to claim otherwise is to be ignorant of the theology of each religion.”

    To be frank with you, if you think that progressive truths is as simple as taking EVERY single claim in EVERY single text is absolute truth than we should stop this discussion now. Obviously not every claim, every figure, every text is 100% accurate as the messages were compiled by men. Some of the texts are legitimate messages revealed by manifestations (but imperfectly recorded by us) and others are completely untrue and a result of manmade thinking. Some of the claimed manifestations are true, some are totally false but ALL are imperfectly recorded and imperfectly understood. Often the messages are wildly distorted in some cases to meet human desires. If you honestly and open-mindedly read the old testament, new testament, the koran, the book of certitude, the bhagavadgita, and many other accounts of a claimed manifestation and you can’t see that these all share so many important messages and important truths from God but expertly crafted for a particular context, people, and society than I am not convinced you have read any of them or attempted to understand my belief system. Do they contradict? Absolutely. They are man-made texts, often retold verbally before being canonized completely from various different accounts and sources. They are by definition each flawed man-made accounts of a divine message. To think that any particular one is totally true is irrational and defeats the point of the progressive revelations. Instead, we must read the accounts of the manifestation with an open-mind and explore the pervasive truths, the underlying messages and the way that each one was so perfectly sent to be received well by each culture. I really hope that anyone who investigates it honestly will see that there is an incredible overlap in the messages of each modern holy text that extends beyond the limited understanding you get from just one manifestation.

    “In this Bible, Jesus claimed to be “THE Way, THE Truth and THE Life,” in contrast to what you are saying which is that Jesus is A way and A truth. Jesus’ claim to be “THE” is either true or untrue. There is no “progressive revelation to humanity” type of middle ground with this claim.”

    Jesus is a manifestation from God. Jesus absolutely has been critical in the success of bringing a lot of cultures over to understand the beauty of the true God and away from lies. Jesus was sent with a specific message, a specific revelation to a specific audience for a specific purpose that has unquestionably caused society and cultures that would have otherwise been completely blind to God to understand God in a limited way. Each manifestation does this and has this goal, it is up to us to one day understand the Unity of God and look past the specific manifestations to see the underlying greater truths that are revealed (again not completely but sufficiently to help us advance to the next level of society). I wish you could see the possibility that Jesus was only a particular manifestation of God used in a particular time and place, sent with a purpose, a specifically crafted message that helped a particular audience to find God when they otherwise would not have. Perhaps for the audience he was speaking to, he truly was the only way for them to find God.

    Unfortunately for this discussion, while I hold that belief, you believe Jesus’s message as being totally concrete and true, totally recorded and interpreted in the text with no significant errors that distorted the message, that as society progressed our interpretations of that specific message are still nearly all true, etc. This is somewhat of a brick wall for the discussion. While I believe our only chance in knowing God is to see through the specific limited context-based texts and understand the underlying messages he wanted us all to receive. It is something like looking at not just one experiment but studying the meta-analysis to see the overarching trends. This is called the Greater Covenant in the Baha’i faith.

  2. Eric Kemp Says:

    Nathan

    Again, I want you to know that I am working on getting back to you, hopefully by tomorrow night.

    Thanks for the patience.

    Eric

  3. JLD Says:

    I really like the idea of the Bahai Faith. The understanding that all religions are equally correct is the kind of thing that might incite World Peace. But there is a flaw in this philosophy. The idea of humanity seeking God’s TRUE truths, yet perverting each and every single one of His “manifestations” seems to crop up quite a bit in Nathan’s writing. And to this idea I ask then, where is the fault in our understanding? Why is it that God is trying to reach us “at specific intervals throughout history” but is FAILING? If God is smart enough reach us with these strategically placed manifestations, to the point that He has tailor-made them to meet the required understanding of those specific cultures at those specifics intervals in time in order for the human race to properly “progress” (did I get that all correct?), then why is it that He has FAILED over and over again to get us to properly understand?

    As I understand it, the Bahai do not believe in evil, original sin or Satan. Rather, they believe in the “absence of good” and that those who do not seek God, will instead turn from him. So why do we turn from Him? Where is the lack of willingness coming from to conform to the single all-powerful deity of existence? Why would we just CHOOSE to NOT follow God? Nathan talks of mankind perverting the progressive and peace-filled messages that God has given us throughout time. But where do these perversions take place? If there is only good in this world and the only thing that stands in the way of us embracing it is our own “imperfections”, then the following questions must be begged:

    WHERE do these imperfections come from? WHAT is stopping “good” from taking over completely? WHO could possibly take a manifestation of love, given from the Almighty Himself, and pervert it into a mandate to slaughter all that might oppose?

    And finally: HOW can these things, which happen in each and every human being upon this planet, NOT be called “evil”?

    To my understanding, the Bahai Faith asks us to reject Biblical principals while simultaneously embracing it as “a path to the truth”. Can you imagine a version of the Bible having any impact whatsoever without the conflict between good AND evil? Without right AND wrong? Without salvation through God’s grace covering our sins? To the Christian, these ideas all make sense as they are explained to us through the Bible. They change who we are. They shape us into better human beings. They grant us redemption from SINS of the past. But to the Bahai, these are incorrect teachings.

    Yet, the path of the Christian is still correct?

    It sounds to me like having one’s cake and eating it too. It sounds like an overly-complicated philosophy that nicely dresses over its own holes with tidings of good will. It sounds like an acceptance of all religions similar to Christianity, while rejecting the one core principal of the one true God’s one true plan revealed to us within the Bible (John 3:16 to be specific).

    The Bible may not have all the answers to God, but it has all the answers to life: This human, earth-dwelling existence that we call life.

    “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”
    – John 1:1

  4. Nathan Says:

    Thanks for the response JLD. I appreciate the additional perspective and I do enjoy explaining the belief system. Unfortunately, and I don’t mean this in any condescending way but with any religion there is a lot to it that cannot be explained even in 5 long posts.

    To be honest with you, a lot of the specifics of your post are addressed comprehensively in Bahai literature and in related writings by the latest manifestation as well as people who knew him. A lot of the questions you ask I will try to answer as best I can in short.

    “Why is it that God is trying to reach us “at specific intervals throughout history” but is FAILING?”

    He isn’t really failing. It comes down to free will and our progressive path towards understanding. We can’t pretend to know what he actually envisions for us. For all we know he succeeded each time doing exactly what he wanted. OR he has given us free will and we chose to distort the messages unintentionally. For instance, why did the jews in the old testament continually disobey God and choose to live in sin (this is a repeating pattern). Partially this is explained by our free will and our inherent “sinful” nature. These same explanations can partially be used to explain why the messages are only partially kept pure throughout history. Here is the important point though * each message still has much of the messages god intended * By looking at each message honestly and studying them and finding the underlying messages that god revealed we can easily sort out the truth from the context (culture) sensitive or distorted teachings. It is still totally within our ability to get the important messages. God did not fail us, if we fail to understand his teachings it is our own fault for being unable to see the larger picture yet.

    “WHERE do these imperfections come from? WHAT is stopping “good” from taking over completely? WHO could possibly take a manifestation of love, given from the Almighty Himself, and pervert it into a mandate to slaughter all that might oppose?”

    Why do you assume that only good exists in the world. Frankly, I don’t see how you can think that we have a solid understanding of why God has done a lot of things. Our creator chose for the world to exist as it is, with us progressively moving ourselves to peace and united humanity. The choice is up to us. You call it imperfection but the truth is at the same time this is also just “choice”. For whatever reason we were given the ability to experience both “good” and “evil”. Perhaps this is a gift we haven’t come to understand fully. For instance Buddhists believe without suffering there is no good.

    “And finally: HOW can these things, which happen in each and every human being upon this planet, NOT be called “evil”?”

    Again, unlike christians, I don’t believe we have anywhere close to a full picture of what and why we were created. Evil absolutely exists and we all understand that using our limited human perceptions. For all we know what we call “evil” is simply a tool to help educate us over time. In some sense, to help us understand progressively some of the lessons may not be the ones we want to learn as a species but we may be better for it. Again I hate the whole notion of “God works in mysterious ways” because it avoids rational thinking but in many ways our understanding of our own existence is limited.

    “It sounds like an overly-complicated philosophy that nicely dresses over its own holes with tidings of good will.”

    Or you haven’t actually understood the core beliefs. How many people claim the same about Christianity? Again the perceived holes may not be as big as they appear and if you want more specific answers I can give them.

    “The Bible may not have all the answers to God, but it has all the answers to life: This human, earth-dwelling existence that we call life.”

    Again. This is not connected to my worldview. The bible does not have all the answers to life according to progressive revelation. This is where our understanding differs. For you the bible is the end all be all but for the Baha’i faith the bible is a very small piece of a much more beautiful and elegant puzzle put together by the recognition that each religion is a different manifestation. By understanding the similarities and differences we can garner the best understanding possible by coming to know the Greater Covenant.

    I understand our worldviews differ and this does not bother me. In fact, I am glad you believe in at least a part of the divine message. Hopefully in time, perhaps many many years from now we will eventually learn to accept that we are all united under the same God and learn to live without such anger and hostility created by the artificial divisions we have placed on his messages.

    Peace

    – Nathan

  5. Nathan Says:

    Just one last thing I often feel the issue is that we consider our generation to be sort of advanced in that maybe we are like the college generation of the progressive revelation. It bothers people the notion that we may not yet have a full picture of ourselves or our creator. I understand that is why many different people cling to a particular manifestation. I mean it makes sense and I can see an argument for both sides.

    I have discussed with many muslims who think Christians are blinded and have a distorted view of jesus and a false view of muhammad. They are sure they are right.

    I have discussed this with many jews who think christians and muslims have distorted the “authentic” god and turned him into a false god by accepting false teachings from muhammad and jesus.

    I have spoke with christians who believe that jews are just too silly to recognize the messiah when he came and so they are now on the wrong path. or christians who believe that muslims are simply silly to believe in their latest manifestation of Muhammad.

    Those are only some examples. In each case, people from each faith have formed dividing lines even within their own religion. Many religions have hundreds of small sects especially christianity.

    For someone from the Baha’i worldview these arguments are akin to blind men arguing over what an elephant looks like because they all touched a different part. Except even more extreme because even among their own claimed manifestations people do not agree. Jews cannot agree on one interpretation, Christians cannot, Muslims cannot.

    One of the issues is this creates amazing divides, hate, greed, anger and jealousy among religions. Even within a religion their is great hostility and adamant battles over even a single manifestation.

    No matter who you are this is hard to deny. The difference from my world view is simple. We are all students under God. None of us have graduated but we are all simply clinging to the individual manifestations that came to our particular culture. There is nothing wrong with this! Just like a lesson plan, it is OK for us to move gradually or only understand the messages meant for a particular group. There is nothing wrong with living by a particular manifestation from God.

    This is progressive meaning there is still much education about ourselves and God to come. We are only in our infancy of education and already look how far we’ve come. God has essentially become nearly ubiquitously worshiped. Consider the major religions today and how SIMILAR a message they all share. Look past the shallow differences and see that the core messages the stuff that really matters we can all agree on. Unfortunately we are not yet able to see past the shallow difference and embrace the unity of god.

    More about my view. sorry to waste so much space. Eric please stop me at any time and I won’t waste any more room on your blog.

  6. Eric Kemp Says:

    JLD

    Thanks for finally contributing brother! You’ve got some good questions in there, I look forward to seeing how that discussion unfolds.

  7. Eric Kemp Says:

    Nathan

    You are not taking up any “space” in my blog. I welcome any addition at any point, no matter how verbose. I’m honestly enjoying this conversation.

    “Interestingly, the “arguments” against the unity of God are usually based on my inability to properly explain the concepts or simple misunderstandings of the concept. Unfortunately, language is a complicated tool and its often difficult to express an idea (especially of a spiritual nature) fully to others.”

    Tell me about it! Believe me, I find it just as hard to articulate my point as I am trying to express it. The best we can do is do our best and explain misunderstandings as they come up. So I appreciate your desire to and the time you spend to dissuade those misunderstandings.

    “Here is one of your presuppositions, please feel free to correct me if I am wrong: The bible’s explanation of God is the beginning and end of the story. The bible explanation is true and the only useful tool we have in our arsenal to understanding God. Furthermore, any other claimed manifestations of God are in no way divinely inspired. Only the bible is filled with all the truth of God.”

    You are correct that I believe the Bible to be the one and only true revelation of God. However, I don’t believe that it is filled with ALL the truth of God, but that it is filled with everything God deemed us to need for salvation and edification, that’s really all we need. This is also not a presupposition. Briefly: I believe that if one takes the Bible for what it says, for only what the authors intended to write, it becomes clear that the Bible is the Word of God. For instance, the writers claimed that Jesus rose from the dead, if this is true than Jesus is the Son of God. So in order to not believe the Bible is the Word of God, we must believe that the authors lied, were wrong or the text has been changed since then. My position is that the accuracy of the words of the New Testament are empirically verifiable. This is a conversation for another time and I would love to have it with you if you’d like.

    “Obviously to my perspective, this is essentially the same as boasting that a single manifestation at a particular time is the only one that is useful.”

    You’d have to define you use of the world “useful” here. How are the other manifestations useful where Christianity fails? Useful for what?

    “When I say ‘God is unknowable’, I mean that God is outside our ability to understand all at once or understand completely.”

    Which I agree with.

    However, the problem with this is that you haven’t restricted your use of “God is unknowable” to when I claim to know God “all at once” or “completely”, you’ve used in when I’ve claimed to know ANYTHING about God. Such as God is love, or Jesus claimed to be “The Way the Truth and the Life.”

    “I wouldn’t say I definitively ‘know’ biology or ‘know’ history and I suspect even doctors would agree their knowledge is extremely limited on these topics.”

    Neither would any Christian claim any different. Would I have to know “everything” about Jesus to know He wasn’t lying when he said I’m “The Way the Truth and the Life”?

    Even so, my critique of your progressive revelation theology still stands. To claim, even close, that all religions have the same basic message, the main difference being the time and place in which the truth was revealed, is to be completely ignorant of the theology of each religion. I understand that you are just applying the dogma of the Baha’i Faith, but you claiming something specific about each world religion, and, I don’t mean this harshly, but you are just plain wrong.

    This is another topic that we definetly should tackle in more detail, and I would love to do so, but real briefly and on only one aspect: Islam teaches that the only way to Paradise is if your good deeds outweigh your bad (and of course if you are martyred in Jihad) while Christianity teaches that the only way to heaven is through faith alone in Christ alone, no works will do it for you. Those to BASIC teachings are in complete opposition to eachother.

    “I never said that NO God truths exist. In fact, I believe exactly the opposite. God would exist whether we were here to understand him or not. ”

    Fair enough, I apologize for misrepresenting your argument. In light of this new info, I have a question for you. Taking into account the aformentioned example of the difference in Islam and Christianity, how can each be God truths at the same time when they are so contradictory? Either one is true or they are both false, which one is it? How do you decide?

    “Because you believe that the Bible is the only ‘true’ manifestation of information about God then this forces you to believe that all the statements within are all essentially 100% objectively true as if a single manifestation could explain everything we need to know about God.”

    Don’t you see the non-sequitor (it does not follow) fallacy you have made in this sentence? I hope to show you: You’re correct, the Bible is the Word of God. However, you are attempting to say that since the Bible can’t explain “everything” then it’s not 100% true. This does not follow. Why can’t it be both?

    You’ve also displayed another basic presupposition of your worldview. That God CANNOT explain everything He wants us to know about Him in one manifestation. You are restricting God to an idea of your own construction. Why couldn’t God tell us all He wants us to know about Him in one manifestation?

    This brings me to another question. The Bible describes Christianity as hundreds of manifestations over four thousand years, culminating with the death of Christ. How is this a “single manifestation”?

    ” Also, again the manifestations are from God but the Bible itself is man-made and was canonized by a man and not God.”

    Warning, sarcasm ahead. I’m curious about this one. What qualify as “canonized by God” for you? If it floated in the air and arranged itself?

    “n fact, claiming that one manifestation is the only true one and that all information inside is completely correct is in my opinion an absolute attribute that you are putting onto God.”

    That’s fine, let’s say that both you and I are putting attributes onto God (I don’t agree that I am but just for the sake of argument…), then how do we decided which one is correct?

    “Obviously not every claim, every figure, every text is 100% accurate as the messages were compiled by men. Some of the texts are legitimate messages revealed by manifestations (but imperfectly recorded by us) and others are completely untrue and a result of manmade thinking.”

    Ok, how do you, personally, decide which is which? How do you read the text and decide which is truth and which is false? How do you decide which truths are man-made or man falsified and which are translated correctly?

    “I wish you could see the possibility that Jesus was only a particular manifestation of God used in a particular time and place, sent with a purpose, a specifically crafted message that helped a particular audience to find God when they otherwise would not have. Perhaps for the audience he was speaking to, he truly was the only way for them to find God.”

    Case in point. Jesus claimed to THE way, and THE truth. Instead of actually tackling this issue, you insert “for his time”. This isn’t what Jesus said, this is your addition to the text. Why do you think it’s rational to do this?

  8. Nathan Says:

    Hey Eric, thanks for replying. To be honest, the primary reason I have these discussions is to help me isolate the specific differences in our underlying thinking that prevents two parties from agreeing on a topic. This is a fascinating topic to me to learn about. We all disagree on so much in every facet of our existence and even our daily lives. Yet we all also believe we are correct in thinking the way we do. As if only ourselves or our group understand things true to reality. We are all guilty of this and this is OK. It is the only way for us to survive is to believe we are right in many instances and trust ourselves. However, at a certain point nearly every discussion on topics of significance essentially just ends up with both parties frustrated as I said earlier. Instead of being frustrated, I just like to be able to recognize the axioms and presuppositions that make us all believe the things we do.

    I expect many of the things I have said have been vague, not representative of my beliefs or have insufficient context. You have a slight advantage in that I am quite familiar with Christianity so my context for it is quite good while your context for the Baha’i teachings is relatively more limited (not a malicious statement, just my perceived situation). As such, I am totally comfortable with the fact that you think I am wrong and that many of my beliefs are irrational. I respectfully disagree and if we were to continue this perhaps you would come to understand that or not and that’s OK. I believe many of the things you have said are irrational as well. This all stems from our differing worldviews. Thanks for helping me understand your position a little better and I hope you can say the same for me.

    In my opinion, this discussion won’t continue to be as useful because I have tried and failed too many times to explain things as I see them in my worldview. This means that with every consecutive post, I am not so sure that the misinformation is being dispelled or that you are coming closer to understanding my worldview. That is OK though and I am comfortable with that.

    I appreciate the discussion and your time and I enjoyed this talk because we were both relatively good at trying to discuss things in a way that is not malicious or hostile. I will keep reading your blog posts probably because I find the topic interesting.

    I also may answer a few of the questions I feel I may honestly be able to answer in new ways that will help your understanding of my views.

  9. JLD Says:

    Nathan:

    The core of the argument I am trying to make is that evil has come to us human beings from an outside source, rather than it being a concept that we created for ourselves to make choices. You said that–

    “God did not fail us, if we fail to understand his teachings it is our own fault for being unable to see the larger picture yet.”

    It sounds as if the experience of life is ONLY for our enlightenment and good for us if we figure out one of the roads to God. The Bahai came about in the early 1800’s (if I’m not mistaken) to create a “beautiful and elegant puzzle” of a philosophy that is seen through the lens of centuries of different religious ideologies put in place. But instead of figuring out which of these is correct, they have instead cherry-picked all the good bits and chalked up the bad to “human imperfection”? That just seems like a way to overlook a reason behind our human failings. To overlook the existence of an absolute evil (Satan) and overlook how we must turn from it. God inspired man to write the Bible so that we might have a simple means of doing this by following a code of human laws (the Ten Commandments). This wasn’t to be an obligatory dogma to follow, but a testament of all the ways in which we were sure to fail: a simple means of identifying the paths of evil.

    “Why did the jews in the old testament continually disobey God and choose to live in sin (this is a repeating pattern). Partially this is explained by our free will and our inherent “sinful” nature.”

    You’re absolutely correct. Because we were given free will and because we have an inherent sinful nature, we humans are prone to break each and every Commandment that God laid out for us. Once they knew what evil was, the Jews (God’s chosen people) were going to prove over and over again that there is no way to turn from it. They would fail again and again and show us exactly why we needed a permanent wash from sin. And why we could not do this on our own. The Bible paints God as the benevolent Father that loved us so much that He manifested Himself physically as the Son of Man just to show us the one true way. He allowed himself to be murdered and then raised from the dead to show us His almighty power and free us from all sin; past, present and future. I don’t believe any other “manifestations” have done that.

    So we know that we are imperfect beings (sinful) and we know that we cannot ever escape our imperfections (we will keep sinning) but we also know that the Bible tells us of a very simple way that we can be freed from them. So simple that even a child can understand, but perhaps too simple for the intelligent mind to comprehend the simplicity of it.

    “Again, unlike christians, I don’t believe we have anywhere close to a full picture of what and why we were created.”

    It is a shame to be lumped into the same category as so many Christians that do not see past the points I’ve just made. To many, there is so much joy in their freedom from sinful bondage that it is the only point they will ever try explaining to others, and that is why they will fail to change minds and be branded as wackos. I agree with you here. I think we are all part of a much, much bigger picture and a much, much grander design that the human experience on Earth is only preparing us for. I think of it as “spiritual boot-camp”. That being said, and as Eric very eloquently laid out in his last response to you, we shouldn’t feel that we know ALL the answers to our creation. God only allows us to know what we NEED TO KNOW on this human journey. And I believe with absolute certainty that the Bible is the key to that knowledge. Not “a key”, but “the key”. I cannot understand how one can see all the merits of the Bible, all the manifestations and prophesies that point straight to Jesus (a miracle in itself), and accept it as equal to all other religious documents simply because the sentiments of “good” are similar.

    “Hopefully in time, perhaps many many years from now we will eventually learn to accept that we are all united under the same God and learn to live without such anger and hostility created by the artificial divisions we have placed on his messages.”

    Here is my final question to you, and I don’t mean it in the “fire and brimstone” sense, but what if we DON’T find that we are all united under the same God? Either you’re right or I’m right or we’re both completely wrong. Are you willing to die to find out? Are you absolutely certain that by gleaning all the bits that the Bahai have chosen as the right amount of truth from each and every religion, that you have found “the one absolute truth”? And that there is no error in deciphering from several millennia of different religious texts (which I also believe are NOT all in synch with one another) to come to that one absolute truth?

    Because I know that if I’m wrong, I am completely and whole-heartedly subscribing to what Jesus came here to tell us (as documented in the Bible). I don’t need to read the Bible in light of anything else to accept the truths within it.

    This has truly been a pleasure. God Bless.

  10. Eric Kemp Says:

    JLD

    Some good questions in there. I hope Nathan thinks through those questions himself without his predetermined stance that all religions have the “same” message.

    Thanks for the contribution brother.


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