Rational Fideism and the Concept of God: Can God Be Rational and YetExperienced?

From Epistemics of Divine Reality, © 2007, 2009, 2011. (Available in Lulu, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, & Ibookstores)

Rational Fideism and Divine Reality

The results show that divine reality cannot be known except through a revelation of itself. For this to be possible, divine reality must at least be personal and concerned. Further, a knowledge of divine reality must not be either purely rational (in the sense that the rational attributes[1] are the divine attributes) or empirical (in the sense that the empirical attributes[2] are the divine attributes). If it is purely rational, then it would mean the negation of the empirical, as demonstrated by the arguments of both Zeno and Gaudapada. If it is purely empirical, then it would mean the negation of the rational, as demonstrated by the theological positions of animism, polytheism, pantheism, and panentheism; and the non-theological positions of skepticism, logical positivism, and mysticism.

A rational fideistic epistemics of divine reality expects the harmonizing of, but not fusion of, reason and experience. This means achieving a harmony of the rational-empirical attributes of unity-plurality, necessity-contingency, immutability-mutability, transcendence-immanence, and infinity-finitude. This means that the answer must come neither from reason nor from experience but from divine reality itself. In other words, if the divine doesn’t communicate in words there is no way of knowing it. Rational fideism presupposes on the basis of a philosophical disapproval of rational epistemics and empirical epistemics that ultimate or divine reality cannot be known apart from the revelation of divine reality itself. This requires that God should be concerned enough to reveal Himself to mankind. This also means that God, in order to be the Object of faith, must not only be absolute and rational in His essence,[3] but also empirical and ‘visible’ in His relation, without which one cannot relate to God.

Thus, reason and faith come into stage; reason as the interpreter of revelation, and faith as the appropriator of revelation. This also means that revelation finds a recipient dimension in the subject. The recipient dimension is the existentiality of human reality. It is the subjective dimension of divine epistemics. Existentiality refers to the human concern and reflection on existence itself; Being becomes a concern for the human. Such a human is referred to as Being-as-care in this research work. The concern is reflected in the passion, thirst, and longing that is experienced in the existential emotions of emptiness, anxiety, boredom, rootlessness, and bewilderment. These existential emotions may be linked to the metaphysical disharmony between reason and experience, a condition that cannot be resolved by either but only by ultimate of divine reality. The revelation of divine reality, consequently, forms the objective dimension of divine epistemics. The enquiry is rational fideistic in the sense that faith is seen as supported by reason and reason is seen as supported by faith. Reason can only function on the basis of faith, and faith can only see and understand with the aid of reason. Revelation, not experience, provides the data for the rational enquiry. Faith is also the thrust of human existentiality towards the discovery of the truth of divine reality. Faith brings subjective meaning. However, such subjective meaning would be anchorless if it had no absolute objective dimension to it. Further, doubt can lead to despair if faith is renounced. Therefore, a balance between the will-to-believe and the will-to-doubt must be achieved through the judgmental spirit of reason. Reason establishes the credibility of the objective dimension of faith, viz., Revelation. Divine reality is seen to be both essentially and empirically rational and relational. The rational-empirical harmonization is understood by the existential nature of human faith. In divine reality, one finds the rational ground in which one can anchor one’s faith and find both the rational and existential meaningfulness of life. Thus, rational fideism becomes the epistemics of harmony that seeks to ground the existential dimension of human reality in the objective dimension of divine reality based on and through the harmonious co-operation of reason and faith.

Each religion has its own revelation as inscribed in its own scriptures. It is not our concern here to study each of the various religious scriptures to come to the conclusion regarding divine reality. The purpose has been chiefly to provide a philosophical tool for theological enquiry. Illustrations of the existential application of the rational fideistic interpretation of biblical revelation have already been cited in the section of the subjective dimension of divine epistemics. Following is an illustration of how the rational-empirical paradox may be resolved in the biblical revelation of divine reality:

i. Unity-Plurality and Divine Tri-unity. The biblical God is essentially a unity-plurality that possibilizes his relationality. He is not a monad, nor is the God-head made up of three gods. On the other hand, the God-head is a trinity. Accordingly, oneness is the attribute of the three and threeness is the attribute of the one. Thus, the Trinity is seen as a harmony of both unity and plurality, in the sense that the Trinity is both a unity and a plurality. It is not one at the disposal of the other, but one in harmony with the other. The existential bond of the Divine Community is secured by Divine Love. The existential distinction is preserved by personality, the divine is three persons, which is the condition of love.

ii. Necessity-Contingency.  God is essentially a necessary-contingent being which possibilizes his relationality. As necessary, God is absolute; as contingent, the three persons within the Godhead work in unamity and love. There is no egoistic centre. Contingency can be seen within the Holy Trinity in the sense that each person within the Divine Community is related to the other.

The Father loveth the Son, and hath given all things into his hand.

…The Son can do nothing of himself, but what he seeth the Father do: for what things soever he doeth, these also doeth the Son likewise.

…the Spirit of truth…shall not speak of himself; but whatsoever he shall hear, that shall he speak: and he will show you things to come. He shall glorify me: for he shall receive of mine, and shall show it unto you. [4]

iii. Immutability-mutability. God is essentially immutable and dynamic which possibilizes his relationality. He is the eternally unchanging God. And yet, He ‘comes down’ to meet His people, He ‘visits’ the poor, He walks on the waves of the sea, and discourses with man in His inner being. The Bible begins with an acting God: ‘In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.’[5] A God who works is a God in motion. God is certainly the God who doesn’t change in essence. However, He is also the God who creates, repents, judges, and saves. The Incarnation is a major example of this. In the Incarnation God did not change in essence but still took on a permanent nature of the human. The Word became flesh doesn’t mean that it was no longer Word but only flesh. The hypostatic union, in this case, secures both the divinity and the humanity of Christ. The noteworthy fact, however, is that the Word became flesh in some point in time and has remained so ever since. Thus, in essence God is unchanging but in His relation He is changing. He is essentially unchanging God who is dynamically active.

iv. Transcendence-Immanence. God is essentially a transcendent and yet immanent being which possibilizes his relationality. God is not only beyond the universe but also in the universe. He is not only Spirit but also the Omnipresent Spirit. He is not only the ‘wholly Other’, but also the ‘wholly Present’; ‘the mystery of the self-evident, nearer to me than my I.[6] God is everywhere and yet not everything. God transcends the universe, He is not the universe. In contradistinction to the pantheistic and panentheistic position, the biblical God, in His essentiality, is not affected by any change in the universe since He also transcends it as Spirit.

v. Infinity-finitude. God is essentially infinite and finite which possibilizes his relationality. He is infinitely infinite and infinitely finite. Therefore, the infinitely finite division of space is not devoid of the personal presence of God. God is infinite in power yet He cannot do many things, like He cannot destroy Himself or be the cause of his own destructibility as in the polytheistic myth of Bhasmasur.[7] Also, He cannot sin, nor can He justify the wicked. Thus, He cannot do many things. The infinity of God, further, does not disallow the existence of the world. Neither is the infinity of God prevented by the existence of the world. Moreover, God is also seen as involved in temporal historical time and yet transcending the temporality of historical time. Thus, God is infinite, but not in the material sense, for that would be empirically impossible. He is spiritually infinite in being, power, and knowledge. However, He can involve Himself in the finite spatio-temporal world. He cannot be contained in a temple made of bricks and stones. But He is said to indwell the heart of a believer. Thus, in divine reality the infinite-finite find harmonious co-existence.

A few illustrations of Biblical theologizing by the existential application of the principles of rational fideism have already been given in the section on the subjective dimension of divine epistemics. Hopefully, such applications will eventually serve to unravel an understanding of the divine not just in the objective dimension but also in the subjective dimension. Thus, also hopefully, the objective cognizance of God will be met by a subjective anchoring in Him. And such anchoring will constitute the substantiality of the faith in divine reality which is not of things seen (empirical) but of things unseen. Thus, according to rational fideism, in matters of knowledge pertaining to divine reality, ‘faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.’[8] Such a view of faith as not only existential but also rational will finally lead theology into a discovery of both subjective and objective meaningfulness in Revelation.

Excerpt from Conclusion

Rational fideism harmonizes reason and experience in both the objective and subjective dimension of human knowledge. In the subjective dimension, faith as impelled by the turbulence of the reason-experience paradoxical situation seeks out for the harmonizing reality that would provide existential meaning to the human to whom existence has become an issue. Faith also provides the intuitive framework within which reason experiences knowledge. In the objective dimension, Revelation (Sabda Pramana) provides the ground in which faith is expected to cast its anchor and find solace for the soul. It is reason which ascertains the objective meaningfulness of Revelation. It is faith that experiences the subjective meaningfulness of Revelation. Thus, faith and reason are involved in the ascertainment of the subjective and objective meaningfulness of Revelation. The resultant knowledge of God, though not exhaustive, is at least epistemically harmonious. God is seen as both rational and empirical in character, while at the same time personal and concerned with human reality. God is both rational and relational. To quote one biblical illustration, God is both immutable and dynamic which possibilizes his relationality; for unless he is immutable he cannot be relied on, and unless he is dynamic he cannot be experienced. This relationality of God makes it possible for man to know God. If God possessed no possibility of relationality, then He could not be concerned with human reality so as to manifest Himself. This relationality also provides the basis for man to existentially relate himself to God, while God’s essential rationality provides the anchoring ground for faith. This relationality shows that God is personal (for reciprocal relationship to be possible) and concerned. He is concerned with human reality; therefore He reveals Himself to man.

[1] Viz., unity, necessity, immutability, transcendence, and infinity.
[2] Viz., plurality, contingency, mutability, immanence, and finitude.
[3] Cf. Heraclitus’ concept of the Logos as reason that governs the universe.
[4] John 3: 35; 5: 19; 16: 13-14 (KJV)
[5] Genesis 1: 1 (KJV)
[6] Martin Buber, I and Thou, p. 79
[7] Bhasmasur, a demon, was given the boon of turning to ashes anything by laying of hands; however, he in turn attempted to lay his hands on the god who gave him the boon which made the god take to his heels to protect himself from destruction.
[8] Hebrews 11: 1 (KJV)

© Domenic Marbaniang, 2007, 2009, 2011.

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