Friday, January 21, 2005

Divinity and Immortality

Kevin Kim raises a reasonable objection:

Dr. Vallicella, in his reply to a criticism of his criticism of a reduplicative argument about the nature of the Trinity, writes:

It is a necessary truth, indeed an analytically necessary truth, that anything divine is immortal.

This claim might pass muster among some philosophers, but it would be roundly booed by folks in the field of religious studies*. If "immortal" means "not subject to death," then I'd argue that many traditions claim their divinities to be mortal. Buddhism views all gods (and asuras, apsaras, hungry ghosts, etc.) as subject to the laws of karma and therefore mortal.

BV: One has to keep the context in mind, namely, a discussion of the specifically Christian doctrines of Trinity and Incarnation. So the context is monotheistic. Polytheism is out, so much so that if the Trinity cannot be formulated so as to avoid the implication of tri-theism, then that constitutes a serious problem. We will note that adherents of the other two Abrahamic religions would like to make the tri-theism charge stick.

Indeed, for present purposes I could invoke the Muslim formula, "There is no god, but God." One could reformulate that to say that only the one God is divine. Part of what divine means is worthy of worship. For X to be worthy of worship, X must be "that than which no greater can be conceived" (Anselm). This implies that X must be a necessary being. Now every necessary being is immortal. So I stand by my assertion that anything divine is immortal.

Now of course, there is no way to stop people from using words like 'divine' and 'god' in all sorts of loose ways. Some will remember the Johnny Burnette song from around 1961 which featured the lines, "She walked out of a dream/Into my heart/Now she's my angel divine. . . ." That' s a pretty loose use of 'divine.' I don't reckon that old Johnny meant to imply that his 16 year old dream lover was a necessary being. (Burnette also had a song called "Dreamin'." Those guys back then did a lot of dreamin', but much less actin'. Cf. "Dream lover, where are you?/With a love oh so true" Bobby Darrin?) And when guitar-slinger Eric Clapton was getting his start, early fans scrawled on walls, "Clapton is God." Etc.

When I say that anything divine is immortal, I am purporting to unpack the essence of divinity; I am not making a linguistic remark about how 'divinity' is used.