Re: Coercion

From: Douglas Barber <dlbarber1954@verizon.net>
Date: Mon Apr 12 2004 - 08:27:20 EDT

Don Winterstein wrote, in part:

"As I see it, the problem of evil disappears as soon as one can accept
that the world was created with a certain amount of independence from
its creator. If the world is independent of God, you should blame it,
not God, for evil. At the same time, those who know God know also that
he is responsible for the good things we experience, so we can give him
thanks for every good thing."
 
This recognition of "certain amount of independence" of the world from
its creator can be seen as the consistent refusal of pantheism in
Judeo-Christian theology, being worked out now in the context of modern
science. The "certain amount of independence" seems to me to work on
both the empirical and the ethical planes in strikingly parallel ways
(with science having no special relevance to the ethical side). In the
empirical sense, God is viewed as having created a world which he
endowed with an intrinsic capacity to develop toward goals whose
realization *by creatures themselves* are part of God's purpose in
creation. In the ethical realm, God can be seen as having endowed
creation or the world, and in a special way creatures which rise to
conscious reflection on creation and the consequences of their actions,
with intrinsic value or worth. This intrinsic value is not the same
thing as intrinsic virtue - perhaps it is more closely associated with
the *capacity* for virtue. When "God saw that it was good" he saw that
it was worth valuing, not that it was virtuous; it's worth noting that
this view that a person's worth is not a function of their moral
goodness is consistent with many New Testament teachings. That worth
cannot be appreciated without realizing that he or she ultimately comes
from the hand of God (that way lies Nietzche), but it is really imparted
to them by God, made intrinsic to them, and is not simply an emanation
of God or the value of God present within them.

To bring my speculation back to the subject of coercion, if we suppose
that there is such a thing as maternal instinct, we could say that
perhaps no one appreciates the intrinsic value of a human being more
rightly than a mother. We can ask whether she expresses this value
freely, or under coersion by the instinct, but if we do so, I suspect
that we're setting up a false dichotomy. The mother is most free when
nothing constrains her from expressing her instinctive disposition to
value her child. I think we could similarly deconstruct the
freedom/coersion dichotomy in almost any case where God is seen to act,
whether by endowing creation with intrinsic capabilities, or intervening
miraculously. It is not necessary to embrace its entire theological
apparatus in order to find great wisdom on this point in the Westminster
Confession: "God, from all eternity, did, by the most wise and holy
counsel of his own will, freely, and unchangeably ordain whatsoever
comes to pass: yet so, as thereby neither is God the author of sin, nor
is violence offered to the will of the creatures; nor is the liberty or
contingency of second causes taken away, but rather established."

Doug Barber
Received on Mon Apr 12 08:27:51 2004

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