Wednesday, January 05, 2005

John Ray on the Trinity as Codswallop

Dr. John Ray over at Dissecting Leftism writes:

The blogosphere is an amazing place. Over at Maverick Philosopher there has been an extensive discussion going on about the doctrine of the holy Trinity! Generally sympathetic to Christianity though I am, I cannot see that particular doctrine as anything but the most awful load of codswallop. [Brit., nonsense]

It is a self-contradictory formulation that arose out of the controversy among early Christians about whether Christ was God or not. They thought he was but, if so, how come he himself constantly referred to God as separate from himself (e.g. John 14:28)? Were there two Gods, Jesus plus his "Father" in heaven or was there only the one God of Judaism? There was one logical group in all this -- the Arians -- who said that there was only one God and he was separate from Christ so therefore Christ was not God. This did however stir up enormous fights among the early Christians and the Arians ended up getting the boot. So we ended up with the present ridiculous doctrine that there are three gods (Jesus plus God the Father plus the Holy Ghost) but there is still also only one God.

BV: Ray is being slightly inaccurate here. The second person of the Trinity is not referred to as 'Jesus' but as the Son or the Logos or the Word. The Son was coeternal with the Father before the man Jesus of Nazareth was born. Still, the doctrine of the Incarnation has it that the Son = Jesus, which of course gives rise to problems of its own.

It is conventional to describe the doctrine as a mystery but it is no such thing. It is just a theological compromise that sacrifices logic for the sake of keeping all parties to the debate happy. How anybody can take it seriously is beyond me. If you regard Christ's own words as being the ultimate authority, the Arians have the argument won hands down. In Matthew 16: 16,17 he makes it as clear as he possibly could that he is the son of God, not God himself. Ain't theology wonderful?

BV: Of course, there are other NT passages: "Before Abraham was, I am." (John 8:58) "I and the Father are one." (John 10:30)

Here is a reason for an atheist to take the doctrine seriously: it raises fascinating questions in philosophical logic and ontology, questions about numerical and qualitative identity, about the absoluteness vs. relativity of identity, about the relation between logic and reality, and others besides. Of course, I don't expect Ray to have a burning interest in these questions given that his interests are sociological/psychological. Indeed, coming from that angle, his talk of political compromise rather than theological mystery makes sense. But there might be more to it than that.

Other angles: Does the doctrine reveal a deep pathology in human thinking? (David Stove. More on this later.) Will understanding the doctrine help us understand the mentality of Muslims who oppose it?

Finally: Is Ray quite sure that the doctine is insusceptible of a non-self-contradictory formulation?