Re: Coercion

From: george murphy <gmurphy@raex.com>
Date: Wed Apr 07 2004 - 19:34:55 EDT

bivalve wrote:

> I’m still not finding the categories of coercive and non-coercive action very persuasive. Perhaps part of the difficulty is the apparent assumption that some features of the universe have inherent properties, not determined by God, which coerce Him into cooperating with them. In this scenario, the idea of coercion becomes more meaningful. On the other hand, if God created the entire universe to have the properties that He wanted (e.g., including the RFEP), then His involvement in their actualizing these potentials does not seem accurately described as coercive. Another problem with the coercion terminology is the assumption that a divine action that sets aside the ordinary capabilities of something is necessarily an imposition. What if the result is something that the “coerced” desired but could not achieve? If I pick up my 10 month-old nephew, he can see things and reach things that he could not achieve on his own, yet he does not necessarily regard this as an impos!
it!
> ion; rather, it may achieve his desire. While “desire” is problematic with regard to much of the universe, “purpose” might be easier to apply. The traditional theological position that God created everything for the purpose of glorifying Himself implies that whatever use He makes of something, whether intervention-like or not, is in accord with the design (NOT sensu ID). It does not seem coercive for a painter to mix paints and use them for the purpose of painting, even though the creation of a painting is beyond the capabilities of the paint alone.

        I don't know that the coercive/noncoercive distinction is the best way to phrase the matter but
I agree with the point Howard is trying to make with it. I approach this from the standpoint of a more traditionally formulated view of divine action in which God is seen as cooperating with created agents. To say that God limits such action to what is within the capacity of such agents, or in accord with their natures, or in agreement with the laws governing their behavior (3 ways of trying to say the same thing) would be what I would mean by "noncoercive" divine action. & to say that God consistently acts that way is what people usually mean by a "kenotic" view of divine action.

        Why would God act that way? An analogy that's often used is the way a parent limits what he or she does with a child so that the child can grow up & understand its environment and learn to do things for itself. The possibility of understanding our world even at an elementary level, let alone in a sophisticated scientific way, requires such divine limitation. A child won't learn how to understand things if a parent immediately gives it answers to all questions, and won't learn to do things if its every need is immediately supplied.

> I also do not see how the problem of evil is solved by limiting God to persuasive actions. It suggests that He’s not very persuasive, and in fact He seems irrelevant. In a process view, what is the definition and origin of evil? I’m not clear on what basis one can identify actions as “evil” or “virtuous”. If there are grounds for defining evil, other problems arise. If we are evil by nature, then good must result from coercive action by another agent. If we are good by nature, then what is coercing us into evil? If we are partly good and partly bad, then part of our nature is coercing another part.

        The simplest - though over-simple - way to put the process argument is that God can't be _blamed_ for evil because he's doing the best he can to prevent it. This is, e.g., Kushner's argument (on a popular level) in _Why Bad Things Happen to Good People_ . God is not the sole cause of anything that happens, so the fact that things "go bad" can be attributed to other causes. OTOH if God is omnipotent (in the correct sense - i.e., the one who is the 1st cause of everything) then one is faced with the question of why he causes the phenomena that result in the Holocaust or Rabbi Kushner's son having progeria.

        The process view has attractive features but also problems. It seems to imply some kind of cosmic dualism. & it's not clear why there can be 2 phenomena which are essentially the same, one of which is good & the other evil. If God has some degree of control over the fire that heats a house, why doesn't he have the same degree of control over the fire that burns it down & kills people. A process theologian would (I think) reply that all the "actual entities" that affect the situation have to be taken into account, but this may be just a way of saying "Well, it's complicated." & of course moral evil is a more difficult problem than natural evils like houses burning down, but the two are not completely separate: Moral decisions involve, inter alia, what goes on in brains.

        As for my own answer to the problem, you can probably guess: "The cross alone is our theodicy."

                                                                                                Shalom,
                                                                                                George
Received on Wed Apr 7 19:37:47 2004

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