Thursday, November 30, 2006

Sketches on Divine Simplicity: III (under construction)

King-Farlow's article (Faith and Philosophy, v.1 n.2 1984) "Simplicity, Analogy, Religious Lives" is not centered on the doctrine of divine simplicity, and unlike the other pieces we've lookes at, its style is not analytic. Nevertheless, he has some interesting things to say about simplicity, the most significant being that the doctrine, pace Barth and others of his ilk, indeed can be religiously significant in the everyday lives of Christians; it is false to say, as Barth has, that the doctrine is of merely philosophical or academic interest, a wheel spinning without traction, a teaching that never touches lives in the Christian community except perhaps when creeds or catechisms are recited.

I. Religious Significance of Simplicity
Following Gutting (1982), King-Farlow holds that the major world religions, including Christinaity, posit triuths challenging believers into transformation of themselves and their world; the should not be conceived in late-Wittgensteinian fashion as merely ways of life into which one may be passively socialized. A Christian so socialized would be at fault, would be missing something Christianly significant. Revelation does not constitute a form of life inter plures, but more, stands outside merely human forms of life breaking in and making demands of those who might otherwise be complacently inside. Thus, what may be the initial strangeness of the doctrine of simplicity need not count against it if that strangeness is part of the challenge Christianity presents. Does understanding and accepting the doctrine have religious significance, for instance, for the process of sanctification?

King-Farlow suggests it does; "talk of the divine simplicity, wisely employed, challenges us to think how an ideal might be instantiated in a person of vastly greater perfections than ourselves' (219). Merely human lives carry a certain complexity or even fragmentation about them through "self-conflict and self-deception, of 'weak-spots', of inconsistencies, of favoritism...." (219) God in contrast is simple "as opposed to being selfishly 'complex' or 'complicated'" (220) and we may--we should--"mediatate daily (as plain believers) on God as ideally simple" and consider him to be "challenging us to 'integrate' ourselves and become more harmoniously moral and benevolent beings...." (220).

He takes the religious point of simplicity further in an interesting way. A saint may exhibit in her life a constellation of virtues together, any one of which would be remarkable in another; her nature "makes the virtues we most cases when we talk, give the curious, but substantial impression of being 'all-of-a-piece' with each other" (220). Here we have an instance of relative simplicity in moral character calling for imitation. But more: "she's unchanging, 'immutable', rather in the way we think of God. I don't mean 'outside time' in either case. I mean naturally, fixedly unswerving in the way she illuminates all these virtues" (220). The moral reliability following on established, general, personal virtue approximates immutability; that approximation partially constitutes its moral quality.

One may even "find it hard to think of her as anything less than immortal" (220)--but I have a harder time following him here. Maybe he could have said we might well be put in mind by the saint of a religious ideal, a Being perfectly integrated in its nature and goodness also perfectly immutable, i.e. God of the simplicity doctrine.

II. A Problem with the Religious Ideal
It won't be a worthy ideal if it is incoherent....


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