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Author Topic: Opinions on the idea of conflicting virtues within a divine being?  (Read 489 times)

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Offline Vanity EvolvedTopic starter

Now, this is a random thought which came to me. I was casually flicking through my copy of Glories of the Most High at work, particularly Sol Invictus's attributes.

For those of you who don't play tabletops, don't know Exalted or don't know too much about Sol, he is (in my opinion) the idea of a 'realistic' Yahweh. He's the divine ruler of Creation, husband of Luna and master over the Five Maidens and Five Elemental Dragons. However, his purview is perfection in all things, which of course brings up some logical problems.

In Exalted, Virtues dictate your character's general leanings, morally. Compassion, Temperance, Valor and Conviction. Higher Virtues let you channel them (Someone saving their loved ones can channel Compassion for bonus dice) better, but once you hit 3+, you begin to find them becoming parts of yourself that you can't ignore. You begin to have to fail Valor rolls to retreat in combat, fail Compassion rolls to walk by a leper and do nothing. In the case of Sol Invictus, he is perfect in all things, including all Virtues - He rates 5 in all, with some additional rules for how he must act.

Say a mortal challenges him to a duel. He cannot, without sacrificing part of his core being, over-ride his Virtues. He must disregard all Compassion to ever avoid not helping someone. In this case, his Virtues pull him into a four way Blue Screen of Death.

- His Temperance tells him that he must simply endure the man's arrogance.
- His Compassion tells him to help the man, because he's simply an ant; it's not befitting of a Compassionate superbeing to respond by melting him with his giant magnifying glass.
- His Conviction tells him that he must remain true to his Virtues, yet also makes accepting or denying the duel awkward, as in his infinite stubbornness, even other Incarnae have an impossible time making him shift his opinions.
- His Valor tells him to smite the fool, because the true avatar of Valor does not back down from a fight and does not extend mercy. It'd be a sign of weakness to back down to anyone, especially an inferion mortal being who dares to insult him to his face.

Hence, why he escaped to the Games of Divinity, to help avoid these situations. One of these stuck out to me specifically - the duality between Compassion and Valor. One dictates that he should be loving, and understanding for those inferior to him, while at the same time, his Valor dictates that all punishment must be equal, and that no matter how inferior you are, you deserve retribution.

And this got me thinking, particularly about the duality of God; specifically, the Christian god. He is a being of infinite mercy, who is willing to forgive all things. He is also a being of infinite justice and the final judge of mankind. He has been shown as being prone to huge backlashes of wrath and genocide, yet at the same time, shown (or at least, constantly said to be) the source of all benevolence. He is a being who judges us all in the end for our crimes (even further than that; an infinite, neverending punishment for all crimes, no matter how major -or- minor they are), yet is also easily able to pardon you of the most horrid things you've done in this world, just as long as you ask for forgiveness (so, a rapist can go to Heaven as long as he accepts God with no ill will beared against him. Sol has a similar clause, in that he cannot refuse a sincere request for aid, due to his infinite Compassion - even if he inflicted the punishment in question).

What is Elliquiy's opinion on beings which're ascribed to have completely conflicting moral temperaments? Do you believe there can be beings which can be both unendingly merciful, but be perfectly just? And if you believe in an infinitely merciful yet just god, what is your opinion on his dualistic nature?

Offline Stattick

Re: Opinions on the idea of conflicting virtues within a divine being?
« Reply #1 on: October 22, 2012, 01:35:21 PM »
I prefer the gnostic take on it: the wrathful god and the benevolent god are actually two separate beings.

But to address your question, well, it's complicated. Personally, no, I don't believe in a God like you describe. But as a non-Christian, I don't need to.

Modern Christianity is the great-great-grandchild of Judaism. Proto-Judaism was born of a sect of Semitic peoples that moved away from worshiping all the gods in their pantheon, and moved to worshiping Jehovah above all others, and then to worshiping Jehovah exclusively. Along the way, they purged, again and again, their beliefs and holy texts, but some hints remain. In Genesis, God says something along the lines of, "Let us create Man in our image." Originally, he would have been talking to the other gods. Genesis, being one of the older books, was probably written when Judaism was still transitioning into a true monotheistic religion. Consider that the commandment is to, "Take no other god before me." According to the Ten Commandments, it's ok to worship other Gods. It's just that if there's a conflict between what Jehovah says, and what another god says, you have to follow Jehovah. There are other hints too. There are two completely different creation myths recorded in Genesis, one right after the other. It's pretty clear that things were in a flux of some sort when this was written down and recorded as "literal gospel truth".

Pottery sherds have been found in the areas that we believe that the proto-Jews lived. Some of them have writing on them. And some of those refer to Jehovah's wife. There is a whole body of evidence that in the original myths, before the Jews learned to write, that they believed that Jehovah was married to Asherah, one of the Semitic goddesses.

So, we have an originally pantheistic pantheon, where the other gods have been written out of the myths, leaving only Jehovah. He had to encompass new roles, new stories to do this, which can help to explain the two faced nature of the Jewish god.

At the same time, out modern belief systems have vastly expanded over what they originally believed back then. We have greater imaginations and greater abilities to envision great or powerful deeds. We've grown philosophically too. So many of the myths, as written, seem off to us today. Originally, three thousand years ago at the origin of Judaism, writing was rare. Education for anything other than a tiny portion of the populous was impossible. Priest-kings or God-kings ruled nearly the entire civilized world. They struggled with the ideas, but there was no need to weaken their power base by putting those theological and philosophical questions before ignorant and uneducated masses. Today, nearly everyone has a basic education and the free time to explore these questions.

You have myths in the Bible, such as Jehovah telling Abraham to sacrifice his kid on an alter. And Abraham started to do it, and then God is all like, "Nah, I was kidding. Hey, worship me, I'm so cool that no one has to make human sacrifices anymore. Isn't that awesome, and better than all those other religions?"

On the surface of it, it sounds good. God is saying that we don't have to do human sacrifice anymore, like they do in the next valley over where they worship snakes and that flying man headed lion thing. But if you dig a little, you might ask if God's a dick for asking Abraham to do something like that. It seems like a cruel joke to pull on Abraham. So, what does it mean? A gnostic might say that it means that it was the evil god that Abraham was talking to. Someone else might say that Abraham failed a test by trying to sacrifice his kid. Others might say that God was the one that failed the test. But maybe God learned something, and got a bit better. You know, change and evolve with the times. The "true answer" depends on your vantage point and what theology you believe in. Of course, a changing, evolving God is an ill fit to a God that has a cannon carved in stone that can't be changed, that keeps pushing people toward the nearly caveman views that he had a thousands of years ago.

Then you get into things that just mean different things now than the did back then. When we hear that Jehovah's "all-powerful", we have a conception that means that he can change the nature of reality on a whim, alter the gravitational constant of the universe, make water burn at room temperature without changing it's chemical formula, violate the laws of thermo-dynamics, and so forth. We can conceive of those things, because we have a much bigger idea of what the universe is today. But three thousand years ago, (most) men thought that the sun revolved around the earth. We thought we were the center of the universe, that nothing else was more central than us. We didn't know that our sun is like a grain of sand in a universe that makes the Sahara desert look small.

When the ancient Jews said that God was all powerful, they weren't saying that nothing is beyond God's ability. No, they were saying that no one is more powerful than God. They did not have the concept that god was boundless. He has to work within confines.

When the ancient Jews said that God was all knowing, they didn't mean that in sense that we think today. They didn't mean that he could see all of time, that he knew what was going to happen thousands of years in the future. They didn't mean that he had an infallible knowledge of all things. Instead, they meant that he knew everything that could be known. That there were things that were even beyond the God's ability to know.

When they said that God is good, they didn't mean that he was some platonic ideal of all good and nothing but good. They meant that he was a good guy. Better than us mere mortals. But they didn't have this idea that God was perfect, just that you couldn't be better than god.

There are passages in the Bible where people argue with God, and win the argument. There are times when God changes him mind. There was an occasion where God was going to kill Moses when he was a teenager, because he wasn't circumcised, that that's gross. So God comes down in all his fury to kill the kid, but Moses's mom quickly grabs a knife and cuts off Moses's foreskin, and then throws it at God. God goes, "Eek!" and jumps back. And then he says that Moses can live, and he goes away. So, his mom actually beat god. And it's in the Bible.

The story illustrates that the notions we have today of the Bible saying that God is Omniscient, Omnipotent, and Omnibenevolent had very different meanings back then than what they do today. By today's definitions, of Omniscience, Omnipotence, and Omnibenevolence, you can pick any two and have a being that isn't a logical contradiction, but as soon as you add in the third, you have a contradiction - a lie. If God's all-knowing and all-powerful, the world makes sense if God's a dick. If God's all-knowing and all-good, but only has a limited amount of power, the world can make sense; it would be beyond God's power to stop all evil. If God is all-powerful and all-good, but not all knowing, than our world makes sense too; God means well, and can do all kinds of miraculous things, but sometimes things go wrong (like that whole creating Lucifer bit).

On the other hand, if we don't take Omniscence, Omnipotence, and Omnibenevolence to be as powerful as the modern definition, than God and world can make sense. God is powerful, but he can't juggle galaxies, eat black holes, change the nature of water... he's really smart, but doesn't have perfect predictive powers so he doesn't know that Lucifer will turn against him at unleash evil on the world... and he's good, but you can still piss him off, and when you do, whoa, watch out, he might just wipe out every single one of those evil bastards in the next valley over, even the ones that weren't really all that bad.

Offline Ironwolf85

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Re: Opinions on the idea of conflicting virtues within a divine being?
« Reply #2 on: October 22, 2012, 10:37:37 PM »
That is an excellent way to put things instead of simply getting into a screaming fight of "god's a dick" and "nuh uh cuz he's god" "yur both wrong cuz yer tarded peoples wif religiosity" into the void of the internet.

Offline Oniya

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Re: Opinions on the idea of conflicting virtues within a divine being?
« Reply #3 on: October 22, 2012, 10:53:05 PM »
Pottery sherds have been found in the areas that we believe that the proto-Jews lived. Some of them have writing on them. And some of those refer to Jehovah's wife. There is a whole body of evidence that in the original myths, before the Jews learned to write, that they believed that Jehovah was married to Asherah, one of the Semitic goddesses.

Actually, some modern rabbis still refer to a feminine aspect of God - Shekina.  I stumbled across this concept in a news article about Leonard Nimoy's photography book by the same name.

Offline Hemingway

Re: Opinions on the idea of conflicting virtues within a divine being?
« Reply #4 on: October 23, 2012, 07:52:19 AM »
In a word, no. It should be patently obvious that a being can't be perfectly merciful and vengeful at the same time. It's a textbook definition of doublethink, "holding two contradictory beliefs in one's mind simultaneously, and accepting both of them."

I can't generalize to all believers, but what I've often seen in debates is the sort of mental gymnastics where god is judged based on his or her supposed nature, not actions. That way, it becomes possible to say that even very cruel things are actually kind, because whatever god does is kind. However, that's really only possible if words no longer mean what they typically mean. If whether or not an action is cruel or kind depends on the person carrying it out, then that raises all kinds of new questions.

I could go on, but it boils down to this: Either words have meaning, or they don't. If they do, then they do. If they don't, then it's not a debate that's worth having.

Offline Cyrano Johnson

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Re: Opinions on the idea of conflicting virtues within a divine being?
« Reply #5 on: October 23, 2012, 09:55:26 AM »
What is Elliquiy's opinion on beings which're ascribed to have completely conflicting moral temperaments? Do you believe there can be beings which can be both unendingly merciful, but be perfectly just? And if you believe in an infinitely merciful yet just god, what is your opinion on his dualistic nature?

Stattick has it right. Theologians made God more marketable, but also made a tonne of trouble for themselves, with those three "Omnis." They graft poorly onto the much more primitive being described in the Old Testament, and people have been noticing it ever since.

(I would add to the description of the religious environment Stattick alludes to that when talking about other gods, there's a specific term -- henotheism -- for the way the early phase of Hebrew religion portrayed YHWH as best and strongest among the deities, but as definitely not abstract perfection and definitely not alone. This in fact was why the Old Testament God grew more and more "jealous" of other deities; for a long time they were seen as real and as a genuine threat to Him. There's actually an episode in the Old Testament where a group of the Israelites' enemies make sacrifice to an enemy god... and win.)

Of course, all of this business of logical consistency only matters if you concede that God should be rationally explicable. In fact, if one is going to accept the existence of an omnipotent monotheistic entity, it may make more sense not to concede this. There is a perfectly philosophically acceptable answer to smart-alecks who ask if the "omnipotent" God can create a rock He can't lift: the answer is "yes," an omnipotent deity should strictly-speaking be able to accomplish all things, including apparently contradictory or meaningless things. One can deny that rational or scientific proofs of God are possible or even desirable. And when asked if a thing is good because God wills it or if God wills a thing because it is good, one can simply answer "because God wills it" and flip a big old bird in Plato's direction.

William of Ockham -- yes, of Ockham's Razor fame -- strongly supported all these propositions, which collectively can be summed up as "because Revelation" (or more snarkily as "because a wizard did it" or "because fuck you"); and yet one has to admit that for all that the Church's medieval quest to "rationally" prove the existence of God* may have had fringe benefits in the creation of much modern science along the way, the actual objective of that quest has pretty much proved itself to be a blind alley, so that in a sense one could say Ockham has ultimately had the better of that argument.

(* A lot of people today mistakenly imagine that Ockham got in trouble with the Church for scientific reasons. That's not the case. When he got into conflict with the Church it was theological: not only was his Fideism suspect, but he also backed the doctrine of apostolic poverty -- holding that Jesus was poor and owned no property -- which was viewed by many of the 1% of his day as a heresy and as dangerous anti-social radicalism.)

Offline Oniya

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Re: Opinions on the idea of conflicting virtues within a divine being?
« Reply #6 on: October 23, 2012, 10:03:58 AM »
(I would add to the description of the religious environment Stattick alludes to that when talking about other gods, there's a specific term -- henotheism -- for the way the early phase of Hebrew religion portrayed YHWH as best and strongest among the deities, but as definitely not abstract perfection and definitely not alone. This in fact was why the Old Testament God grew more and more "jealous" of other deities; for a long time they were seen as real and as a genuine threat to Him. There's actually an episode in the Old Testament where a group of the Israelites' enemies make sacrifice to an enemy god... and win.)

First off, I like that word.  I'm going to have to find someplace to use it now.

Secondly, the 'jealous god' and frequent acknowledgements of the existence other gods (from the blatant one in the First Commandment to the subtle linguistic use of Hebrew plural in early Genesis) is one that I love to use to justify to the door-to-door folks why 'their' god isn't necessarily 'my' god.  They're welcome to argue that I'm on the wrong team, but I'll take mock-umbrage to the term 'godless'.

Offline Ironwolf85

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Re: Opinions on the idea of conflicting virtues within a divine being?
« Reply #7 on: October 24, 2012, 11:44:46 PM »

Of course, all of this business of logical consistency only matters if you concede that God should be rationally explicable. In fact, if one is going to accept the existence of an omnipotent monotheistic entity, it may make more sense not to concede this. There is a perfectly philosophically acceptable answer to smart-alecks who ask if the "omnipotent" God can create a rock He can't lift: the answer is "yes," an omnipotent deity should strictly-speaking be able to accomplish all things, including apparently contradictory or meaningless things. One can deny that rational or scientific proofs of God are possible or even desirable. And when asked if a thing is good because God wills it or if God wills a thing because it is good, one can simply answer "because God wills it" and flip a big old bird in Plato's direction.

William of Ockham -- yes, of Ockham's Razor fame -- strongly supported all these propositions, which collectively can be summed up as "because Revelation" (or more snarkily as "because a wizard did it" or "because fuck you"); and yet one has to admit that for all that the Church's medieval quest to "rationally" prove the existence of God* may have had fringe benefits in the creation of much modern science along the way, the actual objective of that quest has pretty much proved itself to be a blind alley, so that in a sense one could say Ockham has ultimately had the better of that argument.
When asked that question of "could god make a rock so heavy he couldn't lift it?" my answer is along the lines of "and what would that accomplish, create an infinitely heavy object that the great engineer of the universe could not lift? But going on that assumption, Yes, he would do so, and if you want to talk about if god had a physical body, then he'd just make himself strong enough to lift it. But why would he create such an object in the first place, not to mention why would an enlightened being bend the laws of existence just to show off?"
their eyes glaze over after the first sentence...
To me the big guy doesn't roll dice, and he's not the big guy in the sky who will smite thee for not obeying the televangelist.
He's an engineer who plays with dominoes, and every good religion has told us "don't be dicks, take care of each other, and think deep on existence" and come up with ways to accomplish this.
Sadly a lot of fucktards would rather scream, flail, and use 1000 year old texts to support what they were going to do anyways.

Quote
(* A lot of people today mistakenly imagine that Ockham got in trouble with the Church for scientific reasons. That's not the case. When he got into conflict with the Church it was theological: not only was his Fideism suspect, but he also backed the doctrine of apostolic poverty -- holding that Jesus was poor and owned no property -- which was viewed by many of the 1% of his day as a heresy and as dangerous anti-social radicalism.)
wow looks like I'd be thrown in prison.

Offline Cyrano Johnson

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Re: Opinions on the idea of conflicting virtues within a divine being?
« Reply #8 on: October 25, 2012, 02:05:52 AM »
wow looks like I'd be thrown in prison.

It's funny how much of the medieval period prefigured modern controversies and ideological wars. The debates over "heresy" in the medieval church were often just disguised polemics about what later periods (esp. the 19th and 20th centuries) would call Communism and Socialism, Capitalism and Monarchy -- and most of the attending conflicts, confusions, overreactions, hypocrisies and ambiguities were basically the same or closely parallel.

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Re: Opinions on the idea of conflicting virtues within a divine being?
« Reply #9 on: October 25, 2012, 02:40:26 PM »
It's funny how much of the medieval period prefigured modern controversies and ideological wars. The debates over "heresy" in the medieval church were often just disguised polemics about what later periods (esp. the 19th and 20th centuries) would call Communism and Socialism, Capitalism and Monarchy -- and most of the attending conflicts, confusions, overreactions, hypocrisies and ambiguities were basically the same or closely parallel.

That's quite true I think, and it played out on a religious scale due to the culture of medieval Europe.