59yrs • M •
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|God as Spiritual Disaster (Ziporyn Notes #2)
God as Spiritual Disaster (Ziporyn, 'Being and Ambiguity,' Notes #2)
Thanks to everyone for the responses to the first post. We are still working through the Ziporyn book and its arguments against God. As before, please feel free to send any thoughts or comments, however cursory, whether or not you've read Z's book. The various perspectives have proved very stimulating for our group.
The argument is about the disastrous pragmatic or spiritual consequences of the concept of God as omniscient observer and knower. Like the previous argument, which argued against God as cause and creator, this seems to have some antecedents in Nietzsche-God as a limit to human creativity, alternative perspectives, etc.-but with the addition of the Tiantai and general Buddhist ideas about non-dualism and suffering. I apologize if this is not perfectly lucid, as I am still trying to sort this out clearly for myself as well.
To see why God is such a disaster for man's spiritual state, we have to give a diagnosis of man's spiritual problem and its possible solutions. Man's spiritual problem is not sin in the sense of, say, disobedience or even alienation from some particular being or state, but rather existential suffering. This is standard Buddhism. Ziporyn shows that suffering per se is a function of conditionality, which is to say, finitude as such. Why? Suffering means 'a disparity between what I want and what is the case.' It is defined in relation to human desire. What is this desire? Z argues that it is not just pleasure conceived as some particular object, but rather the constant availability of pleasure, the power to get it when one wants it; the getting is the pleasure, not the object got. It is this power to get what one wants that one really wants behind all apparent objects of desire. But the power to get what one wants whenever one wants it is to be the sole cause of what happens to one. This would be to be unconditional. What humans desire can be described as increasing degrees of control, freedom, unconditionality or, in Nietzsche's word, power, but Ziporyn points out that this is tautological: it means, 'I want to be able to ensure that what I want to be the case will be the case.' This means to be the sole cause of certain effects. In addition to being tautological, it also involves a self-contradictory paradox: for it means that any finite condition, even 'being powerful,' will not be a good in itself, but only a good to the extent that I happen to want it, and that attaining it (or really, re-attaining it, since to want a particular object I have to first have some conception of what it is, drawn from previous experience; this means I must have the power to maintain myself as a desirer across time) demonstrates my power to attain it. The power to attain the object whenever I want it, not the object, is what is wanted, even if it is 'power' that is objectified as the desideratum (and also to get rid of it when I don't want it-a good thing ceases to be good if it sticks to me when I don't want it; good food is bad if it sticks to the tongue forever and cannot be scraped off-cf. nightmarish King Midas type scenarios); this means that to be *able* to be either powerful or not-powerful is actually more powerful than being 'stuck' in the position of only being able to be powerful! But this impossible state is what would be required if one were to be a 'self,' i.e., the sole cause of one's own condition, and this underpinning of the commonsensical attempts to end of suffering: to become or assure oneself that one is the sole cause of what one experiences at all times.
But this is just what is impossible if the finitude (conditionality) of beings is the only relevant fact about them. There are multiple causes for the arising of any state, at least two qualitatively distinct entities. Most fundamentally, any state that is finite is contrasted with and excludes some other state. That is the definition of finitude (and also, by the way, Z's definition of 'to exist'). Suffering and non-suffering can only be what they are, can only meaningfully be said to exist as such, by being contrasted to each other, and excluding each other. Since this contrast and exclusion is necessary to their definitions and identities, it can never be eradicated from them; it is 'internal' to their identities to 'have an outside.' This means that right in the heart of their definitions there is a kind of contradiction: they cannot be the sole cause of themselves, or of their own apparent attributes, since these always depend on precisely whatever they by definition exclude. This fundamental 'twoness' is hidden in the depths of every apparent 'oneness.'
This also makes them 'impermanent' in a very thoroughgoing sense. Neither of these states can be eternally the case, or the sole allowable interpretation of the total twoness. Suffering and non-suffering alternate (the pace and ratios, even the sequence, are irrelevant here). What is conditional, i.e., having more than one cause, not being caused by itself or its own 'essence' alone, is necessarily impermanent-it alone can never ensure its own continued presence (or ensure that the total twoness 'X plus non-X' will always be interpreted or felt as X rather than non-X). The threat of suffering is also a kind of suffering, and this threat is an implicit lurking presence even in non-suffering, since it must inevitably revert to suffering; hence angst, anxiety, fear, insecurity. I believe that for Ziporyn, even if, per impossibile, a state of bliss were to have infinite duration, it would still be 'impermanent' in this sense of conditionality: it would always stand in danger of being 'reread' as the suffering to which it is contrasted, which is inside it 'as' its outside, making it equally interpretable as a state of suffering. It is this constant danger of being reinterpreted that is the essence of inescapable suffering, because to be finite is to be reinterpretable. It alone can never ensure how it will be interpreted, what identity it will be seen to have; this always depends on contexts, additional factors. But these are necessary consequences of being a finite, conditional being, i.e., a being who can never be the sole cause of what happens to him, a being which is a twoness (at least) disguised as a oneness. The problem, in short, is the classical Buddhist problem: the concept of self. But for Ziporyn this means specifically taking one's self to be a 'thing,' defined in the above way: as one entity or state or condition rather than another, with a fixed essence and a certain set of characteristics rather than others, for which to exist and not to exist would be mutually exclusive, an entity which definitively includes and excludes some other entities.
Hence the only spiritual solution for man can initially be described as the overcoming of conditionality. But this cannot be done by positing some other thing-God, Brahman, Substance, the eternal-which is unconditional, as opposed to man, who is conditional. This is because, first, the unconditional as opposed to, contrasted to, the conditional is itself really also conditional-it is 'conditioned' by 'not' being the conditional. It has a determinate, finite content, dependent on something not applying, or not being the case. (This is a restatement of Hegel's critique of the 'bad infinite.') Also, as long as 'this is this and that is that,' each being only taken to be what it is and nothing besides, having a single determinate identity, the existence of, even the relation to or the merging with, the unconditional does not alleviate man's conditionality. The real problem is the idea that conditionality and unconditionality are seen as mutually exclusive, or that finitude is seen as the end of the story for a determinate being. Now existence IS finitude; but finitude, it turns out, is local coherence, which is global incoherence (more on this central Ziporyn idea in another post). This means that the identities of things are not finally fixed-they have 'no self,' and always inherently entail their opposites, such that X and non-X, to which it is constitutively contrasted, are 'non-dual.' I think he means that the real solution is not to try to escape conditionality to reach some other definite condition 'unconditionality' (which would actually still be conditional), but rather to learn to experience the twoness in the oneness and the oneness in the twoness.
God, however, as the eternal determining observer and final arbiter of the real meaning, identity, value and significance of things, is the ultimate obstacle to the realization of this interfusion and interpervasion of identities, which is man's only hope. One is seen by God, judged by God: God alone knows who you really are, and because God puts an end to the various alternate readings of oneself, God fixes one's identity once and for all. No further interpretations are permitted, no further recontextualizations. To stop the suffering which is implicit in reinterpretability, man invents God; but suffering can really only be overcome by fully accepting this reinterpretability, finitude, multifariousness, and realizing it thoroughly, all the way to the bottom. The same goes for things. Things look different ways to different beings; the way they look to God is allegedly the way they 'really' are. God, as the putative sole cause, author, and purpose-giver, is in a position to finally establish a fixed, definitive identity for each entity-its real value, what it was designed for, what its true purpose is, in contrast to the deluded viewpoints or perverse usages of various human beings. Ziporyn claims that if God is taken away, there is no such thing as 'objectivity' (modern scientific ideas, or at least modern common sensical ideas, of objectivity are just aftereffects of the belief in God, even when he's been dropped). This is another of those Ziporyn claims which rests on the local coherence=global incoherence model, and which I am only beginning to digest. Still, I two-thirds see the point, the flux of identities that make up the world when it is not stabilized by the authority of a final arbiter, a perspective that can override all the others. We step back into experience itself, its flux of constant unfolding of new aspects and identities and recontextualizations (considerable courage would be needed for this, since it applies also to 'oneself'). Without God, a single unequivocal 'way things are' is unthinkable. There are just various ways of appearing to various sentient beings at various times. But it is just the idea of a single 'way things are' that is the underpinning of suffering. God is a projection of the idea of an unconditional ego, self-clinging projected outward and writ large, which would be the sole determinant of its experiences. In both cases-God and self--it is the uncritical acceptance of the premise that this literal form of unconditionality is either desirable or possible that perpetuates human suffering. In reality, according to Ziporyn/Tiantai, the end of suffering comes with an insight into a different relation between conditionality and unconditionality: determinate existence is local coherence is global incoherence is intersubsumption. Only when God is gone can we be freed of final unequivocal objectification, self-objectification, freed of the sense of actually being a particular object with a certain finite set of qualities, predicates, attributes; our multifariousness is restored; we are no longer merely 'things.' Therein lies our freedom--which Ziporyn defines as 'the fact that everything is relevant' i.e., every possible fact provides an alternate perspective revealing further aspects of our identity.