Transcendence, Immanence and Surrogacy in Hierarchical Ontology: A Speculative Exercise
Dr. James C. Mills, The University of West Florida
According to the Dictionary of Philosophy which sits on my desk, (A Dictionary of Philosophy. Anthony Flew, Editorial Consultant, revised 2nd Ed. N.Y., St. Martin's Press, 1984. p.354 &164), the attribute of transcendence places one's existence beyond time and space, a designation usually reserved for God. The same source tells me that immanence refers to the ability of the being possessing it to "indwell", and is used to describe the manner in which God dwells in, or in some other way, identifies with and influences the course of history in our world. Common usage often considers immanence to include, as William James described it," the means by which men have commerce with their God," such as Abraham. (Genesis: 17 & ff)
Philosophers who insist upon strict definitional use of words will point out that using the words transcendence and immanence in the same context such as the world, is a contradiction in terms; a major inconsistency in thought and expression. This practice has been common in theism for some time. The major purpose of this paper IS to offer a solution which enables us to retain the benefits of immanence without including the inconsistency found in its use in theism.
In this paper the word "God'' will be used in the deistic sense of strict transcendence as literally, "beyond time and space." With this understanding of God we can postulate a meaningful hierarchy of being with God at its apex, which Frithjof Schuon, a Swiss theologian, writing in 1981 suggests is 'beyond all hierarchy":
"At the summit of the ontological pyramid--or rather beyond all hierarchy--we conceive the Absolute, which comprises by definition both Infinitude and Perfection: Infinitude which radiates intrinsically and extrinsically, that is, which on the one hand contains the potentialities of the Absolute, and on the other hand projects them; and Perfection which is identified with these potentialities and which, by the effect of projection into Relativity, gives rise to all possible qualities; in the Divine Being, in the world and in ourselves. If the Absolute is pure Reality, the infinite will be Possibility, whereas Perfection or the Good will be the totality of the contents of the Infinite." (Frithjof Schuon, From the Divine to the Human, Translation by Gustavo Polat and Deborah Lambert: Bloomington Ind.; World Wisdom Books, i982, p. 75)
If, for purposes of speculation, we take this short and concise paragraph as a suggestion of the nature of primary reality, and in our imagination attempt to return to a purely hypothetical moment in past eternity, we can develop an interesting Plotinian theory of genesis as an imaginative extrapolation of what Schuon is saying, and still retain a concept of God as absolute which will be consistent with an understanding of God as creator. We will later see that the concept of infinity, from our viewpoint, places some shackles on itself. This will be an exercise in imaginative generalization or speculation.
Let's assume that we are spectators at the hypothetical moment in past eternity just before the first creative act of projection of the Absolute takes place. Then the only thing we can say about the Absolute is simply: "it exists." This is the limit of all reality for that moment. We must however, postulate one factor which is not immediately observable within the absolute: volition. To attempt a description of the Absolute at this moment, existence and volition excepted, results in total negation of all other attributes, whether personal or impersonal. Now we shall set up a sequential performance primarily for purposes of our own understanding because we are spectators at a moment in past eternity when sequence has not yet appeared.
That Schuon has a vision of all of this is shown by a further extension of his ideas expressed above. He further says: In God knowledge, Love and Power are Absolute; but they are equally infinite and perfect, since God is Absoluteness, Infinitude and Perfection. Thus this ternary which is only differentiated subsequent to ontological projections, is necessarily and super-eminently found in the Absolute Itself, hence in the divine Essence, but in an undifferentiated manner, so much so that it can be affirmed that the essence is knowledge, or Love, or power, but not that it contains these realities in distinctive mode as is the case on the level of entological cosmological projection." At first two things stand out: Schuon apparently believes that all absolute primal reality exists in the same undifferentiated form we speculated at our first hypothetical moment suggested above, and that the later differentiation at the ontological/cosmological level will ultimately cause some repercussions at the absolute level. I think we can develop reasons for this consistent with Schuon's speculations which will also introduce new problems. But first we must broaden our speculations on the further expansion of reality by the will of the Absolute just subsequent to that first moment suggested above, when only the Absolute and its volition existed. We now resort to our sequence method.
Our explication sees the second hypothetical moment in past eternity as that when the Absolute performs an operation of self-bifurcation within its Infinitude resulting in the appearance of two absolute forms: the Absolute of personal reality, and the Absolute of non-personal reality. These are the potentials for the future appearance of all personal reality ,and impersonal reality. The stage is being set for the appearance of personal beings and the impersonal cosmos. The Absolute has accomplished a partial relinquishment of some of the shackles of infinity and made possible the existence of personal beings separate from things, and both separate from the Absolute itself because the Absolute still retains its Infinitude as a balance between any tension between the two absolutes. This opens a wide field for further speculation. However, to stay within the stated parameters of this paper, let us assume that the original differentiation has made it possible to bring into existence two kinds and levels of being: 1) A further differentiation and extension of the Absolute or Infinite level and a population of perfect beings necessary to insure its perfect functioning; (2) the finite level and imperfect beings. We need not question the actual existence of the second level of being for we are aware of its existence; we experience it all about us . We call it time and space or just "the finite."
Love is a well-publicized attribute of God; but love always suggests that there must be an object of love. Therefore god as Absolute, must project other persons to love since love as mutuality can occur only between personalities. I cannot "Love" an impersonal being. Thus it is obvious that, though it is a free will act, God's nature demands the creation or projection of other personalities. The importance of the impersonal absolute lies in its being the source of all impersonal reality, including the cosmos and to me, the environment I live in.
Our next speculation should tell us that as long as the Absolute differentiates on its own level, the products will be perfect worlds and perfect beings; beings able to effectively perform whatever is required of them. They would differ however by function; hence we can speculate upon the existence of created beings of complete, relative, partial or qualified perfection and ultimately of total imperfection, where imperfection would mean incompletion. Here we have the beginnings of a hierarchical ontology for reasons of both love and function plus the need in many of them such as finite beings for completion. Schuon sees the absolute as existing beyond the hierarchical ontological levels of being. Thus by common consent, we can still retain the assumption that all else is contingent upon God. Hence if God as Absolute does also create perfect beings then there must be gradations of perfection in these created beings as noted above.
Complete perfection represented by completion would characterize only God and whatever beings he would choose to create equal to himself. So far, Western theology sees only two, a Son and an Infinite Spirit; the Son as a co-equal personality which would satisfy two basic needs: A social and loving need at the absolute level, which also makes God a Father, and in doing this, brings into being an Absolute Personality, the Co-equal Son, the model for all personality projections of varying degrees of completion for all future eternity. The Spirit comes into existence as the one co-equal being at the absolute level who can completely understand the mandates of God relative to further projection on all levels which further creation will require as reality is expanded, and the ability to implement the Father's wishes beyond the absolute-infinite levels to include the domains of the finite. We could call the Infinite Sprit, the God of Completion.
Though the Absolute has proven himself to be a social being on the absolute level, our finite experience teaches us that we do not socialize with or directly communicate with the Absolute-God on our level. If we are to have commerce with our Absolute God then some sort of agency must be required. Thus we are forced to consider the possibilities of the existence of beings of functional Surrogacy for this purpose or beings not necessarily designed for surrogacy but who are capable of it on demand, or both. Thinking in the finite mode, we notice that if all creation were on the absolute level, there would be no novelty whatsoever. Everything would be perfect and predictable. But we live in a different continuum and here everything is characterized by beginnings and endings and uncertainty, and we are doing our best to forestall our own ending. Subliminally we must be convinced that, potentially at least, this is possible and that finite beings can really have no endings. As we look around the finite, we come back to the question of why it exists in the first place. Our religious persuasions will tell us that the answer is because God wills it. That's an oversimplification which stops further speculation. However we are now so curious that we ask: "What purpose can the finite have for God?" I think this is a key question.. We do this on the human assumption that if the finite does not have a purpose for God, who we believe is perfectly practical and has a purpose for everything, then it would not exist. So we start thinking some more about the Absolute and the results are interesting because we begin to see that infinity may indeed have some shackles inherent in its very constitution. There may be some non-doable things even for the Absolute once the laws that govern the existence of the universes of time and space and those of eternity are established. Apparently one is that because of the great natural difference between the infinite and the finite domains, we may assume that experiences of one cannot be had within the other.
Knowing God to be absolutely efficient, we can postulate a minimum of three reasons for the existence of the finite:
1. God has a need, either now or much later, for beings who have achieved their own kind of perfection by their own choice and efforts. Beings, who because of their conquest of uncertainty, have developed unusual dependability, and undoubted perfection of purpose and loyalty to the highest values of the universe; 2. The finite level may provide a training ground for beings created with limited perfection; 3. God wishes to experience the finite cycle himself. Much further speculation is possible.
We also observe that God, being absolute, is without finite experience. This also applies to all of the perfect beings who exist around him. They are perfect by creation, not by choice. They have never gone though the mental struggles attendant upon the demands of the animal instincts opposed to the higher urges of the mind and made a freewill choice. They have never had to choose between very fine shades of good and evil. They have never had to oppose altruism to selfishness, fairness to self-gain, faith against a mind which cannot clearly discern the object of faith, stability to the uncertainties of life; to become idealistic without becoming fanatical; to choose spiritual values in a world which sees the senses as the only approach to reality; to choose between personal and group levels of ethics, and there is much more. In the finite level, there are forks in the road which force decisions and we finite beings, must make them. The finite level gives us time, space, and existence within which to accomplish this; the method by which we grow through decisions toward completion and doing our share to bring about creativity in time.
This is probably merely a framework to the Absolute, but of greater importance to the absolute, it would seem, are three other facts involved in making a decision: reflection, growth for the individual making the decision and the entire experience itself. Thus decisions, growth, and experience are three factors which the finite can provide. Undoubtedly perfect beings can grow through experience but much of this experience is on the level of being where they exist. Certainly God can experience on the level of infinity; but can He experience finite experience as it actually is? I think not. Apparently he will experience whatever the finite offers but at his own absolute level and kind of experiencing.
In this speculation we have established two fairly solid reference points; the Absolute and the Finite which, because of the magnitude of the qualitative and quantitative differences between the two, can be seen as opposite poles of a long continuum beginning just below the absolute perfection of the Absolute and ending with the total imperfection of the finite. It will be a task for imaginative generalization to attempt, if only in a crude way, to fill the gap between the absolute and the finite with a functional hierarchy of rational beings, and this suggests the production of many other papers.
Our obvious inability to directly contact God apparently lies with both of us. God is absolute, we are finite. The gap must be near infinite, and though as finites we can think about God, we will be limited to anthropomorphic notions of the Absolute expressed in terms of the same kind. Only pure revelation can break through the barrier which still separates us from even the higher levels of time and space. Our career here should indicate to us that we will require much more experience on ever higher finite levels to develop sufficiently to even approach the borders of the infinite. Though we can talk about it, it must be infinitely more difficult for God to talk to us than it would have been for A.N. Whitehead to attempt to discuss prehensions with an amoeba.
When we even think about the matter, we note an immense amount of inherited mythical, theological, ecclesiastical, and historical debris to sweep away. Much of this is retained subliminally and so strongly that its defense is automatic, akin to a knee-jerk reaction. One is the highly egocentric notion that we dwell just next door to the Absolute. Any astronomer can give you astoundingly, massive evidence that such is not the case. He will demonstrate that the world is only a microcosmic speck in a vast continuum of similar celestial bodies. Apparently a major problem lies in the natural laws of God. If we see God as creator, controller and upholder, then it seems most obvious that God cannot move from his chosen dwelling place or else the universe would collapse. Like the nucleus of the cell there must be a stable essence around which the universe is arrayed; an exciting new astronomical discovery is potentially large enough, after much needed added data is compiled, to show this. As nubulae produce new suns, new relations of physical gravity are called for; and this is going on all the time. Creation is continuous. Using our anthropomorphic approach, a central control must be necessary. But by definite, this central control will be at the absolute level of God. Should we, as finite beings, be transported to this location, our senses would report to us that we are in a vacuum devoid of everything. Our limited sensory ranges would tell us nothing. If God could move to the finite, apparently an impossibility, he would be as helpless to communicate with us as we are to communicate with an amoeba.
At this point we are going to have to come to grips with our inherent egocentricism. We have come so accustomed to thinking of God as immanent in the world, that we may commit the error of believing he exists right next door. This is the natural consequence of wanting to have commerce directly with our God as seen by William James; but I think that this is only wishful. Under the circumstances outlined above it will have to be through an agency such as a surrogate.
Here we face some problems: simply, how does God communicate with man, and vice-versa? How does God gain finite experience? Can man communicate with God without having the knowledge of doing so? Apparently easiest of these to answer is the question of: how does God gain finite experience? Hindu religion provides us a direct approach to this problem in the concept of the atman. The atman is a discrete spirit of Atman dwelling within individual man. Hindu mysticism seeks to attempt the union of the human mind with the atman.; in Jainism, these are seen as fragments of the life-principle. Let us call them divine fragments of God..
The Absolute, we have speculated, is capable of projection by volition. On the assumption that, by definition, anything subtracted from infinity does not change that infinity; it should then be possible, even necessary, for God to fragmentize himself and indwell individual men but not in the sense of immanence. This fragment would be the primary method by which God could gain direct, unique, finite experience in the life of each human being as they experienced the finite. This fragment, dwelling in each normal human mind, would experience finite experience to the individual capacity of each human being. The presence of this fragment would establish a tension between itself and God and tend to draw man unconsciously in the direction of God. This might explain man's very slow climb from a most primitive state to our present state of quite limited civilization and provide a hope for future progress. Of course man is expected to go "kicking and screaming each step of the way."
There must be some necessary restraints upon this "spark" beginning with the need to make it impossible for it to establish contact with the consciousness of its human host. Doing so would abrogate the freedom or will which appears essential to human experience. However to experience human experience it must have an experiencable mind of some sort, giving it an awareness of unity of being and self consciousness. A self- conscious, but prepersonal status would satisfy this requirement. A means of contact with its origin is necessary to fulfill its basic function, experiencing the finite. As sparks of God they must also have volition of a kind. We could call them sentient entities of a quasi-personal nature. But because of their nature they cannot dwell in either the subconsciouscious or conscious level of the human mind. They must then exist in the area of the mind that William James denoted as the super-human consciousness. (William James. A Pluralistic Universe, Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. 1977 Ed. p.140) We could carry these speculations much further but time and space intervene. . If God is to remain absolute, which we have maintained, then some method other than the "spark" concept must be used to establish contact with man. The problem is how can God impinge upon and stimulate man's conceptual capacity? We compared this type of contact with Whitehead attempting to converse with an amoeba. If he cannot do it personally, it will have to be through surrogates who can communicate with man directly. The surrogate must be a life-form close to man himself, one able to express itself within the limits of man's conceptual capacity, otherwise valid communication is impossible.
Religious history is filled with surrogates, e.g., angels, archangels, avatars, and Sons of God, to mention a few. We are concerned with their functionality, so let us take Jesus as an example of a perfect, functional being for this purpose. His purpose apparently was to bring a new revelation of God to man. By an unknown technique, his individual personality was incarnated in the body of a babe which grew up in the normal manner of any child of its day. He apparently studied hard in the local synagogue as attested by his knowledge of the scriptures which he used to good advantage when necessary. He must have traveled extensively during the "missing years" as he had an excellent knowledge of human nature, apparently gained first hand. He conversed with men at their own level, yet could say to a questioning Pharisee, "before Abraham was, I Am." (John 8:58) In reference to his position in a hierarchy, I speculate that he is at a level somewhat subordinate to the original Son of God, who is co-equal with God on the absolute level. I doubt the latter could incarnate at the human level. I see Jesus as in a very responsible position high in the time-space level with sufficient divinity to have immediate access to God as Absolute. Did he not say: "I am the way, the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but by me." (John 14:6)
It is possible that Melchizedek, appearing in the time of Abraham, seen variously as 1800-1900 BC., was a surrogate. We can only speculate on the reasons for his appearance but may have been an incarnation of a different kind of a Son of God. We learn in Genesis that, "...he was priest of God Most High." (Genesis 14:17-18) In Hebrews we learn that, "He is without father or mother or genealogy, and has neither beginning of days nor end of life, but resembling the Son of God he continues a priest forever." (Hebrews 7:3) In the re-writing of the scriptures during the Babylonian captivity, it appears that Melchizedek did not fare too well, else we might have more knowledge of him. Apparently his tradition was continued for we find two rather lengthy references to him in Hebrews.
Angels are apparently quasi-material beings who can approach humans sufficiently well enough to establish a kind of awareness contact. Avatars are incarnations of Gods found in Hindu writings. All have the possibility of making conscious contact with human beings thus functioning as surrogates. In view of the speculations presented above, we seem to have very little knowledge of surrogates. This does not abrogate the possibility that angels may serve in different capacities on the same level and on many different levels in different capacities. Much additional and careful research is called for.
Certainly the concept of surrogacy preserves the deistic concept of God as absolute and who, by choice, cannot move from his central dwelling place if he is to function as creator, controller, and upholder of all that is.