When God Becomes a Triumph of the Will, Research Time, 16/01/2018

Here’s an interesting way my colleague Morteza Hashemi’s recent work found itself contributing a really important point to my own ongoing research.

In the off-kilter ontological chapters that will take up the strange middle section of Utopias, I’ll work from two core concepts – time as lived duration, and the univocity of being. Morteza’s work has really helped me with that univocity concept.

Christianity is a religion of contradictions – it's what makes the theology
and ontology so fascinating and strange. Now, those contradictions
make it very difficult for me to adopt Christianity as my own path to
engage with the divine. But the story of Jesus himself is beautiful
and deranged, one of the most profoundly bizarre myths humanity
has developed. While I can't sign on to that myth, I love the story.
Short form – the concept of being’s univocity is the conception of existence as entirely immanent. No realms of being somehow separate from each other – material, energy, spirit, whatever other kinds of being that exist – everything can commingle, interact.

This concept began, in its most intense trajectory, with John Duns Scotus. Reading this old book of essays on Gilles Deleuze’s influences, the essay on Scotus mentions that the 13th century writer was never able to see his concept of univocity through to its natural conclusion.

That conclusion? Atheism. Or at least a pantheism that’s functionally indistinguishable from the best kinds of atheism.

If you lay down as a foundation for your thinking that existence has only one plane, then you are in the same way that God is. God doesn’t become a being in a transcendent realm – God becomes a force in the world* who’s present through action.

* Or the force of the world, if you’re going to see is through to its end.

Morteza’s book traced how later generations of thinkers saw that concept through to its end. That was, for me at least, the most fascinating exploration of Theism and Atheism in a Post-Secular Age. The ground of atheism is found in this remarkably pious Christian concept.

Univocal existence applies the ethical lessons of the Christian concept of Incarnation to the complete ontology of the divine. The ethical meaning of Christianity is that God loves humanity so much that God became a person who’d be sacrificed for our onto-theological redemption. God becomes us and dies to save us.

One of the several artistic representations of John Duns Scotus, the
first great philosopher Scotland contributed to the Western tradition.
I like this image best because of how ordinary it makes him. A
skinny monk with big ears and male pattern baldness.
What matters in this context isn’t God’s law or reason, but God’s will, God’s desire, God’s yearning. God becomes an emotional force of love in the world, an immanent power. God’s will is in instant-to-instant sustaining of existence. God’s will that the universe exists permeates existence itself.

God becomes the same as the substance of existence itself, meaning that God and the world is the same. We’re expressions of God’s will because God’s energy is the energy that drives material existence. But now God and existence are the same, two ways of talking about the same thing.

If you want to speak strictly ontologically about existence, you say ‘being.’ If you want to speak ethically about existence, you say ‘God.’ The will of God is literally the development of the world. If you simply want to stop talking about God, you can without losing everything. When God is existence, then the totality of existence is always already God.

That's atheism – there’s no God over and above existence. What happens in the world is God’s will because God’s will is literally all the events, processes, and developments of existence. God becomes superfluous when being is univocal.

Where Morteza’s book kind of deflated me was when we got past this and started engaging the two major schools of popular atheism today. The aggressive, reductive atheism of Richard Dawkins, Chris Hitchens, and others like them is a dead end of empty spite and resentment.

But the major alternative is Alain de Botton’s existentialism as self-help. Morteza calls it tourist atheism. As much as I like the attitude – a joyful acceptance of the world’s plurality of thinking about the divine – ‘tourist’ really is the best label.

There’s nothing profound happening in this atheism either. It’s nicer, because you’re not being a belligerent prick. But it’s ultimately an obnoxious way of seeing the world in superficialities.

If, over the next decade or so, I can build any reasonable profile for myself as an intellectual author, I want to promote an atheism where you can still think about the divine as a profound, awe-inspiring topic.

It can be done. Just follow the univocity of being through to its natural end. See where you end up.

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