Salient: At Victoria University College, Wellington, N. Z. Vol. 24, No. 10. 1961.
The Unchristian God: a Reply
The Unchristian God: a Reply
Salient 9 contained an article by W. Dwyer proposing a contradiction in the Christian doctrine of God, and hence showing its falsity. The article also contained certain criticisms of the role of the Church in society, and concluded that if people prize liberty they must reject Christianity. I would like to make a point-by-point analysis of this article in order to see if there is any truth or merit in it.
Mr Dwyer starts out by deducing from the Christian premisses that God is omniscient, omnipresent and omnipotent, the proposition that God is Infinity. Now he can deduce in a logical manner that God is eternal from his premisses; and perhaps that is a meaning that can be given to the mysterious phrase "God is infinite." But just what can possibly be meant by saying "God is Infinity?" And how does Mr Dwyer, deduce it? This is important, for much of his subsequent argument turns on this phrase. He tries to explain it in the next sentence: "Now the very concept of infinity is all-inclusive and absolutely exclusive—nothing exists apart from it as if it did it would cease to be infinite." Aside from the first part of this statement being a flat contradiction, I fail to see how nothing can exist apart from a concept, or even that this statement is meaningful. The contradictions Mr Dwyer complains of are due to his inconsistent arguing and not to Christian theology.
But I suspect that deep in his mind he does not think infinity is a concept, but something else. If it is a time or a place or an object his argument becomes ludicrous, and if it is something metaphysical his argument has all the difficulties of the medieval metaphysical systems which modern philosophy has pruned so drastically. Is it possible that he means by "infinity," "the totality of creation" or "the universe?" This, and this alone, makes sense of his subsequent argument that nothing can exist apart from it, therefore evil cannot exist apart from a good and omnipotent God, but it does, therefore no Christian God. Well, if this is what he means his argument has been of the form "God is omnipotent, omniscient and omnipresent, therefore God is the universe." How can the universe be omniscient? It is nonsense. It is also pantheism, an utterly unchristian theology. I am afraid Mr Dwyer will have to learn some logic if he wishes to propound a respectable argument.
Now on to the next point. Mr Dwyer goes on to point out that "theories of heaven and hell . . . lead ... to the conclusion . . . that there is a division and an internal struggle in the Christian Infinity." If by this he means that1 there is a moral struggle in the universe, then I congratulate Mr Dwyer on propounding a basic Christian doctrine. After all, if there were no evil, there would be no need for Christianity. We are here in the middle of one of the most difficult theological arguments to follow, but it runs something like this, in an abbreviated and mutilated form. "God is omnipotent" does not mean "God does I everything possible," but rather "God can do everything possible." Now it is not possible for God's creatures to love and obey him spontaneously if they are just mechanistic puppets of His will. Hence humanity must be created with the liberty to reject God's will and love, so that they can, if they wish, freely accept them. To this extent God has not exercised His omnipotence, but is still omnipotent. Humanity, in not following God, creates moral evil. Evil is hence a necessary consequence of humanity having mental liberty, and as such can consistently be part of the plan of an omnipotent and benevolent God. This can be put another way, by using a political example. Which government is better: one which keeps its place by force, or one which keeps it: place by the free love of t hi people and suffers from the evil doers in the community who arise as a result of their liberty? Omnipotence must not be confused with the exercise of absolute power.
Mr Dwyer goes on to point out that the imposition of a "divine" morality on the world hinders intellectual development, and point to the persecution of Galileo as an example. Such things will forever be a blot to the conscience of the Church, because in times like the end of the Medieval period it forgot that God gave man mental liberty and "in subjecting all things to him [man], he left nothing that is not subject." Christianity has, but must not if it is true to its author, curtailed liberty and l hindered intellectual and scientific development. The Reformation of the Catholic Church, an attempt to return to the Christianity of the New Testament, was largely brought about by a desire to stop the type of "slave mentality" Mr Dwyer writes of. And it is significant that today the countries where there is the greatest measure of freedom and political stability are the ones in which the Church succeeded in reforming itself. About the only conflict between Christianity and science is where science develops devices detrimental to man, such as the more sinister side of psychology and advertising.
The final point in reply to Mr Dwyer is, is it the case that "Christianity, in common with other forms of organised superstition, endeavours to identify itself with the powers-that-be." For the "superstition" part, I merely refer the reader to the Concise Oxford Dictionary and then I ask if the bases of any of the four great religions are superstitious. Few fair atheists hold that they are, and reserve the term for spiritualism star-guides and the like. Now to the charge of political expediency, i It is partly true and partly false. It is true for some of the Dutch Reformed Churches of South Africa, who have been repeatedly implored by the World Council of Churches to change their opinions . and oppose the government policy of apartheid. When a police state . goes all out with a public brain-washing campaign it is only the strongest who withstand it. It is to the credit of most of the South African communions that they have done so. It is to the credit of the Lutheran Church in Nazi Germany that so many of its leaders stood up to Hitler. In Soviet Europe, Roman Catholic clergy and laity have been violently persecuted for not toeing the party line. The early Church martyred itself by the thousands rather than worship Caesar. In New Zealand, one large communion has been at the government for 10 years to recognise Communist China, and has made strong pleas for using 1 per cent, of our income as free aid to underdeveloped countries. The government refuses because it is scared of public opinion. The Church is not. In fact, most communions here have a strong undercurrent of criticism of many government policies in their literature.
To sum up, Christianity is fundamentally concerned to establish human liberty, and that includes the liberty not to believe in Christianity. Luther said "No man can control my conscience." But the Christian Church, which has too much of the human element in it to be infallible, in its best moments fights for the recognition of such human rights; and if it fails in its witness, it does not ask to be pulled down from the outside, but strengthened and continually reformed from the inside.
—Thomas J. Richards.