Head to Head
One of the most
troublesome aspects of modern theology is the idea that God and other similar
ideas are inventions of human beings. Not until we accept this, say some radical
theologians, can we attain true maturity of faith. Here
Rick debate some aspects of the way we form our beliefs.
The term construct is used in
religious and philosophic discussions. In our debates it is often employed. As I
understand it, a construct is a
concept devised by the mind to set parameters for discussion and analysis of a
particular subject. It constitutes the basis and conditions for elaboration of
the subject at hand.
Some claim the idea of God to be a
human construct. Frankly I don�t know what source of constructs there can
be other than the human mind. Is there any other being that has the mental
capacity to make constructs?
Because God is a human construct there are those who automatically dismiss God or an
immaterial reality as a fiction, a mere figment of the imagination. This
assertion automatically disqualifies any further arguments in favor of the
potential reality of God or a Divine Creator.
What other portal exists to the human
experience but the mind? Is it not possible for God to penetrate the mind to
disclose His nature? It seems to me that if one takes the position that the mind
devises a construct of God, it is
therefore not a real proposition. This is a circular and self-fulfilling
argument. Mick, can you help me clarify and better understand this problem?
unsure what you�re getting at. George Kelly produced his definitive work on
constructs in the mid-1950s. He suggested that from birth we all actively test
our environments. From the feedback we construct mental maps of the world. His
fundamental postulate was: "A person's processes are psychologically channelised by the way in
which he anticipates events".
Kelly�s work only slightly, so I don�t know if he ever wrote about the construct
�God�. But I suppose he might have said that it derives from individual attempts
to anticipate certain life events. One such might be the certainty of death, for
perhaps your questions boil down to this: Does my construct �God� derive from
and correspond to something �out there� in the same way that the construct �my
father� derives from and corresponds to an actual person?
You are getting closer. Kelly�s concept of
fits nicely into my construct of cells
of consciousness I described in our debate on Meaning. They both
have dimensions of past, present and future. Kelly�s constructs are a construct
within a construct. A Kelly construct develops as experience (present) builds a
repository of information (past) that in turn projects into the future to
predict events and behavior. Huge numbers of constructs conglomerate to make up
a unique persona or cell of consciousness. We are all complexes of constructs.
mentioned earlier, some scientists and others of materialist bent, dismiss the
idea of God simply because it is a human
construct. I suppose they assert this because they consider our mental
processes as solely the result of chemical processes. They might argue that a
vehicle moves because of power from the engine and leave it at that. One could
take it a bit further and argue it was the designer of the engine that caused
the movement. I am suggesting there are principles and plan that exist outside
any organic representation in the brain.
Constructs are neutral regarding their derivation from a purely material point
of view or from a transcendental origin. Saying God is a human construct tells me nothing about the genuineness or reality
of the construct. It is the ideas embodied in the construct that are decisive.
suggested god-seeking was due to a search for a benign yet powerful earthly
father figure. Perhaps he was right for some people but probably not for all.
Countless people possess constructs of God as the ultimate reality of their
lives. How do we decide which constructs are genuine and valuable to the
individual who holds them?
Mick: I think
we agree that what we call constructs are sets or sequences of electro-chemical
events and established patterns in our brains. My mind is the totality of such
constructs, as is yours.
However, every human is a unique biological system. It follows that no two
people have the same constructs in response to their life experiences. If God is
a construct, then no two people have exactly the same God. There may be
similarities, derived from common cultural backgrounds. But my God is not your
God and I can�t value your God as I value mine.
Another question is more basic: Is there a �real� God out there,
independently of our constructions? And if so, is it possible for you and I to
construe that God in exactly the same way? If we can�t, then how can we agree
that �God� is really out there? You say God is forgiving; I say God is vengeful.
I say God is unknowable; you say God can be related to personally. Which of us
To illustrate: I have a father. I construe him one way, you another. I say
he�s strict; you say he�s lenient. You say he�s short; I say he�s tall. But we
both agree that despite our differing constructions, my father exists
independently of either of us. And so with everything else. Without such
agreement we could not live.
But is God in the same category as my father?
Rick: I quite agree every person is unique. Each one occupies a finite
place in time and space where no one else resides. Likewise we all see our
realities differently because of our unique physical and mental perspectives.
However, despite nuances and variances of perception, a consensus evolves around
certain categories. For example, there are as many views of God as there are
people but a number of attributes concerning him (or her or it) are commonly
held. Consensus within categories allows diverse people to gather around things
like clubs, political movements and churches etc.
God is not the same category as earthly fathers. Earthly fathers are concrete
physical objects. God is not. Here again we encounter the wide chasm between
materialism and non-materialism.
numbers of people believe there is a God out there. They believe his existence
is not dependent on their existence. He is the divine creator of all things and
presides over the continuing evolution of the universe. If this faith provides
sustenance and meaning for life�s difficult journey why should they not embrace
it? Can and should all believers engage in deep philosophic and ontological
discussions before they sign on to their belief constructs?
Mick: I wonder if
our differing constructs of God derive from our differing constructs of the
world, the latter being primary and the former derivative .
Let me illustrate: Way back in early 1960s a group from my college went
off to debate Christianity with secular university students. After hours of
interesting and combative discussion, all the Christians could say in the end
was, �We can�t convince you. All we ask is that you try Christianity out.�
Christian and secular construct systems were apparently incompatible.
I seek to harmonise them. My starting point is that the universe is all I
have to draw on if I want to fill (construe) the empty word �God�. If there is a
metaphysical �reality� it lies outside my range of constructs. Or at best it is
a provisional construct, like life after death.
I don�t know if my overall construct system derives from my culture or if
it comes from thinking and experience. I suspect that it derives from a complex
interaction of all three. But I do maintain that my constructs are closer to
reality than those of traditional Christianity, just as Galileo was closer than
I continue to wonder how some people come to create positive constructs of God
while others do not. In a previous debate we discussed a similar issue. You said
above and I reiterate,� my overall construct system derives from my culture or
it comes from my thinking and experience.� I wager there are people raised in
similar cultures with similar experiences and similar norms of thinking who may
have very different views of Christianity than yours. I am also aware that among
my friends who reside in a similar cultural and ethnic milieu a number have
attitudes about God and an immaterial reality that are quite contrary to mine.
It is a conundrum.
believe people make the choice of believing in an immaterial reality and God.
Likewise others make the choice of not believing. But what motivates these
choices? I would like to suggest that in part it is the result of pain or
experiences associated with God symbols such as religion and church are painful
the construct is likely to be filled with negative impulses leading to the
choice of dismissal. If pleasure and comfort are experienced in a similar
context, a positive construct of God
may be chosen.
pain or pleasure in the eye of the beholder, a matter of interpretation? Maybe
the pain is brutal and God does not seem to answer prayers for relief. Did a
loved one die despite pleading with God to intervene? Did someone representing
the Church act hypocritically or cause humiliation?
could go on and on with similar examples of how circumstance and events can
shape constructs of God. Personally, I retain the belief that God can speak in
quiet and subtle ways to shape my positive construct of him even in the face of
calamity and disappointment.
Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson go on a camping trip, set up their tent, and fall
asleep. Some hours later, Holmes wakes his faithful friend.
"Watson, look up at the sky and tell me what you see."
Watson replies, "I see millions of stars."
"What does that tell you?"
Watson ponders for a minute. "Astronomically speaking, it tells me that there
are millions of galaxies and potentially billions of planets. Astrologically, it
tells me that Saturn is in Leo. Time-wise,
it appears to be approximately a quarter past three. Theologically, it's evident
the Lord is all-powerful and we are small and insignificant. Meteorologically,
it seems we will have a beautiful day tomorrow. What does it tell you?"
Holmes is silent for a moment, then speaks. "Watson, you idiot, someone has
stolen our tent."