Two Onto-Theo-Anthropological Hypotheses

1. The positing of two “worlds,” “natural” opposed to “divine” or “supernatural,”1 is unsustainable2 except as an “ontotheological” or perhaps more properly “onto-theo-anthropological” mode of conceptual organization or schematization. In other words, “natural” and “divine” refer to two of three such interdependent and mutually defining, yet conceptually distinguishable moments that seem to organize any discourse of or on monotheism, including the discourses of anti-monotheism and atheism, the third moment being “the human.”3

2. We can entertain as a second hypothesis or corrollary hypothesis4, that the familiar Sunday School questions – e.g., “How could a truly benevolent God allow evil to exist?” – emerge from, speaking loosely, the contradiction in conceiving this tripartite structure and attempting effectively in the same movement to collapse it again: We provisionally conceive of the divine principle or essence as unlike the human and natural principles, yet ask ourselves, “What happens if we view the divine principle as a human-like natural existent?” Or: “What if God possessed intentionality in the way that we conceive of human beings possessing intentionality, and operated within nature in the way that we conceive of natural forces acting within nature?” Such questioning ought to be self-evidently absurd, but historically and we might suspect necessarily, under the onto-theo-anthropological discursive hypothesis, it is a very human and very natural questioning. So when, for instance, asking what could be meant by omnipotence, omniscience, omnipresence, and omnibenevolence, we humanly-naturally wonder what a human-like natural-existent omnipotence etc. would be, but the question of, say, omnipotence makes sense, whatever sense it possibly could make, only and strictly as a question of omnipotence as divine omnipotence, omnipotence in the mode of or in relationship to the divine, or power (potency) from the perspective of the divine.


  1. Comment under “Sunday Morning Atheism” by Christopher Carr. []
  2. See paragraphs 11-12 in comment under “Atheism, Paganism, and the God of Abraham” by John Wall []
  3. This tripartitite structure of the monotheistic discourse has been to my knowledge most intensively and exhaustively explicated by Hermann Cohen and Franz Rosenszweig, as discussed elsewhere on this blog especially in relation to the unique historical context that produced them, attempting to follow and no doubt distorting Cohen’s Religion of Reason, Rosenzweig’s The Star of Redemption, and commentary by Peter Eli Gordon in Rosenzweig and Heidegger. []
  4. Advancing the proofs will be a day- or week- or life-consuming exercise, but we’ll get to it as we can, expanding upon prior discussion or ongoing notes: Today we begin with our latest endings. []

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20 comments on “Two Onto-Theo-Anthropological Hypotheses

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    • If God is all-pervasive, as under most monotheistic understandings, how can “man” be simply “apart” from Him? Or, in a different sense, if we are one with God in Christ, as in the Eucharist or in other signs and acts typical for Christianity, or after the Crucifixion, or if God and Man were one in Christ, or if humanity is destined for a return to oneness with God, or if we acheive oneness with God after death, or we emerge into this life out of oneness with God, to cite some major traditions of the bridging of the notional gap, then any such “apartness” is clearly not a simple, irreducible, and irrevocable apartness in Christian belief.

  1. There’s an interesting paper by Kosakowska, on Bely’s Petersburg, since the latter was a follower of Cohen,

    • Never would have suspected Bely – whom I know more for his critical work, never having read Petersburg – to have been a follower of Cohen, though I wonder how much relevance Cohen’s turn to exploration of Judaic sources would have had, since for most of Cohen’s career he was best known as a founder of the Neo-Kantian school.

      Am thinking if I ever return to reading serious fiction again, Petersburg might go on the list.

  2. I like your framing of this in terms of monotheism rather than some more inclusive term.

    In Buddhist circles there’s a discussion about secular or naturalized (ie framed in terms of Naturalism ie some version of scientific rationalism) Buddhism that seeks to eliminate what it sees as supernatural or superstitious content. What this usually refers to is karma and sometimes traditional rituals. Personally I find it an odd impulse since Budhha clearly set the terms of his teaching as a means to escape cyclic existence (karmic rebirth). This escpape could be reframed perhaps without too much distortion as existence without evil. I don’t think Buddhas are implicated in this evil in the way that you discuss God sometimes is thought to be.

    As an adolescent in the process of falling away from Catholicism I framed the issue not so much as the existence of evil as that any victims of evil simply never have a chance for salvation becuase they die or loose the capacity to accept salvation. I include in the “victims of evil” the FAS child with psychotic genes born to sexually/physically abusive parents/”care”takers who then becomes a mass murderer.

    In this appproach God is condemnd not so much for the existence of evil as for allowing human life to come into existence that never has the chance to excercise free will and choose salvation, whose only possibility at birth is eternal damnation.

    This did not comport well with what Ihad been taught as to why God made me.

    • I’m not sure how Catholics are supposed to deal with that concern you raise specifically in regard to doctrines of salvation and damnation. It does seem to be a somewhat Sunday Schoolish problem, where we seek to conceive of an individuality defined in just such a way as to pose difficulties for somebody’s as-stated rules for distinguishing culpable evil from innocent evil, or for assigning responsibility, or some such.

      The easy answer in a layman’s religious terms might be that, whatever a particular priest or nun or theologian might happen to say, you and I and the Catholic Church may not be able to define or know the true status and fate of the mass murderer’s soul, but God surely would, and, anyway, what we have to worry about is our own real souls, the souls we know, not the soul of an imaginary individual or perhaps an individual depicted in the news but not really known to us.

      I don’t know if my answer is an acceptably Catholic answer, but, if we set aside possible doctrinal particulars, I think we’re left with the same problematic I tried to address in the post: As soon as we start insisting that God “should have done” or “should not have done,” we’re discussing God as a simple natural existent and quasi-human being reducible to our peculiar human-natural propositions. We are also extending ourselves beyond what we are compelled to accept as real, a dialogic moment or onto-anthro-theological present, to what we imagine might be real or, more strictly speaking, we imagine we might imagine might be real. We are imagining the truth of a known falsehood for the sake of an imaginary falsification of the truly known.

      • The “Sunday School” characterization minimizes the issue nicely, but ignores the deeper, but still reducible to your terms, investigations of Aquinas and particularly Augustine. That in the end they fall victim to a reductionist attack doesn’t minimize their importance and again in the case of Augustine, the effect on Western civilizaton. His codification of the doctrine of Original Sin could be seen as an attempt to escape the problem of justifying the ways of God to man.

        This bears directly on the issue of political sovereignity – is each person, and the collective of persons fit for self government, or are mediators, Church and King necessary.

        These issues are hardly acedemic for the faithful. The mass murderer is simply Everyman writ large. Aquinas took as his project to use reason to explain faith. That he failed in spectacular fashion hardly matters – the effort is necessary to the process of promoting and protecting faith.

        • Of course, the philosophers are also Everyman writ large, trying to discover a link between reason and justification, or locate the point or points where one turns into the other. I’m not sure I understand which reductionist attack you see A and A “falling victim” to. The atheist/Sunday School attack? My hypotheses? Someone else’s?

          I started writing a longer response, then realized I was setting a new project for myself likely to take up a day or three, but I do hope to return to these hypotheses and to the radical implications of and answers to the Argument from Evil.

          Also, on a topic from your initial comment that we didn’t come to, are your able to explain in simple terms for a stupid Westerner how Buddhism or a “naturalist” Buddhism differs from “Hindu atheism”?

          • The Sunday School hyothesis is what I was thinking of. “Attack” maybe overstating things.

            While considering your next installment consider if this is worth considering. My familiarity with Strauss is only through you, which is necessarily limited to the purposes you discuss him for, With that caveat, I wonder if Strauss discussed Augustine. In some ways I suppose one could characterize A as attempting a sythnthesis of Jeuruselem and Athens and ending up with the conclusion that man cannot really rule himself alone either individually or collectively without te help of God’s mediator.

            On the other point, I’ve don’t remember encountering “Hindu atheism”before. Just from the phrase, I’m guessing it’s as contorted as Naturalized Buddhism.

          • Probably true.

            Just to be sure,I want to point out that my Everyman/mass murderer comment referred to my previous comment:

            “I framed the issue not so much as the existence of evil as that any victims of evil simply never have a chance for salvation becuase they die or loose the capacity to accept salvation. I include in the “victims of evil” the FAS child with psychotic genes born to sexually/physically abusive parents/”care”takers who then becomes a mass murderer”

            Everyman differs from the mass murderer here only by the grace or caprice (depending on you viewpoint) of God.

    • First of all, Psalm 139 is a wonderful piece of writing, and quite relevant to our purposes I think, so thanks for bring it up. It immediately makes me think of William Blake’s “On Another’s Sorrow,” which speaks to a similar sense of the divine, for instance in these lines, which are repeated somewhat like a chorus:

      He doth give His joy to all:
      He becomes an infant small,
      He becomes a man of woe,
      He doth feel the sorrow too.

      Think not thou canst sigh a sigh,
      And thy Maker is not by:
      Think not thou canst weep a tear,
      And thy Maker is not near.

      O He gives to us His joy,
      That our grief He may destroy:
      Till our grief is fled and gone
      He doth sit by us and moan.

      But Blake’s poem is a “Song of Innocence,” and the Psalm is a Psalm, a poem or song of praise, not a commandment, and even commandments need to be interpreted before they can be understood. I don’t see how “arrogance” is an issue here at all. There are several hundred other pages of Bible and other sacred writings that we have also not gotten to yet.

  3. No it doesn’t, it is a song of praise, because it aknowledges purpose for us, there’s a reason that Nietsche after proclaiming that ‘Gott is Totten’ because he knew what would come of that realization, Bely does try to reconcile the philosophical with the Orthodox faith, who had someone decayed at the end of Pobestdenev’s tenure, who imparted a fusion Ecclesiastic and temporal authority, to both Alexander 111, and Nicholas 11, the reaction of the SR’s did not resolve things, for they were ultimately nihilist in means, although pragmatic in goals, hence Azev (Lipparenko in the novel) would kill Plehve (the mentor of Ableukov, even though it was what the Okhrana wanted, as would later happen with Stolypin

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TV pundits and op-ed writers of every major newspaper epitomize how the Democratic establishment has already reached a consensus: the 2020 nominee must be a centrist, a Joe Biden, Cory Booker or Kamala Harris–type, preferably. They say that Joe Biden should "run because [his] populist image fits the Democrats’ most successful political strategy of the past generation" (David Leonhardt, New York Times), and though Biden "would be far from an ideal president," he "looks most like the person who could beat Trump" (David Ignatius, Washington Post). Likewise, the same elite pundit class is working overtime to torpedo left-Democratic candidates like Sanders.

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