Tuesday, April 28, 2009

The Philosophy of Gender

As part of a discussion, I have been prompted to write a post regarding the philosophy of gender. That is, what is the masculine, and what is the feminine? Let us begin by distinguishing between gender and sex.

First, gender and sex are not the same thing. Sex is biological. The sex of a person identifies the person as male or female - testicles or ovaries. Now the way the terms are normally used today, sex and gender are both understood to refer to this biological classification. What's important here is what we mean here in discussing gender, rather than what the words may mean in the dictionary, or philosophically, or whatever else.

Gender - as we're using the word here - refers to a person's quality of being masculine or feminine. Now consider how we think about masculinity. What makes a thing masculine? Typically, people associate the masculine with men, and the feminine with women. They define the terms on the basis of males and females. Things are said to be masculine insofar as they are like, or related to, men. Things are called feminine if they are like, or related to, women. Now this makes sense, and it's entirely consistent with the way most of us have grown up thinking. It's just obvious, right?

Well, if we think about it, we will realize one very important hidden assumption in this way of thinking. Namely, this definition is based upon the idea that the biological distinction between men and women is a primary characteristic of existence. In other words, in calling things masculine or feminine based on whether things are reminiscent or related to men or women, we're implicitly asserting that the distinction between men and women is something upon which other things can be based. That doesn't mean everything can be based on this distinction, but that at least some things can be - namely, those things which are called masculine or feminine.

At first glance, this seems fine. However, there's a real problem here when we consider God. God is called "He," after all. God calls Himself "He" in the Scriptures. Now God is not a male. First of all, God is spirit - He has no biology! Second, God created maleness and femaleness. So God is not male, but rather, He is masculine. That God is masculine is something that the monotheistic religions agree on. In other words, it's not controversial. It's a pretty well established fact. Yet if God is masculine, and masculinity is based upon men, well then we obviously have yet another problem, because first, we have already recalled that God created maleness, and He cannot be based upon something He created for He existed "before" He created it, and because second, that would make God dependent upon and defined by something, which He, the eternal Almighty, the uncaused cause, the one necessary existing thing, is not.

The reality is that masculinity and femininity are not defined by that which is male or that which is female. Rather, masculinity and femininity are based, in some way, upon God. Yet God is masculine, not feminine. In this we seem to have another problem, for how can we establish what is feminine if that which it is based upon is masculine?

The solution to this problem, and the answer which really gives us what we need to fully understand this issue, is that gender is relational. It is a matter of the relation between things. Let's simply forget about the words "masculine" and "feminine" for a moment, and simply consider God. God is God. Everything else is not. The important relation here is between that which is not God, and that which is. Now let's replace our term, recalling that we call God masculine. That which is not God, then, we can call feminine. Note here that we're dealing with relations, not identities. This is a very important distinction, because it's the difference between saying that men are gods and women are not - not something that we're trying to do! Smiley

Therefore, let's consider the relations between God and that which is not. How does God relate to that which is not? We could certainly list perhaps an infinite number of items, but let's keep it simple for now. First, God is separate from that which is not God. He is apart from it, not a part of it. In other words, God is not in creation, but "stands" apart from it. Second, God enters into that which is not God to effect His purposes. He has to do this, obviously, if He is to interact with creation, for we just recognized that He is not a part of or in it. That is, God enters into creation, either as the Holy Spirit acts in the world or as the Second Person of the Trinity became Incarnate and so literally united to creation.

We could go deeper, but let's stick with these basic relations for now. Not only are these simple ideas, but if we think about it they are really two very fundamental aspects of the relationship on which other ideas can be built. Now these relations can be expressed by the terms immanent and eminent (or transcendent). The quality of eminence or transcendence is the quality of being apart from a thing, being beyond it. We often speak of God as transcendent, and by this we mean that He is beyond the world; God transcends creation. The quality of immanence refers to being in or with something. I am immanent to creation, for I am a part of it.

These are the two basic concepts we want to keep in mind as we discuss the relation of gender. Recalling that God is masculine and Not God feminine, apply these ideas and then consider the relations between men and women. When we considered God, we focused on two of the more obvious and important relations between He and Creation. Where men and women are concerned, let us consider what may be the most obvious important relations between them: the creation of new life through their union. We see here very similar ideas regarding immanence and eminence that we saw with God. In that ultimate of human relations, procreation, man is really apart from the "creation," that is, the baby. He enters into the woman from without and accomplishes His purpose, the fertilization of her egg, that is, the "creation" of new life. The woman, on the other hand, is with the child. Throughout the entire process she is always, in a very important sense, connected to the child, one with the child. The child is in a real way truly a part of her. The man is beyond the child, while the woman is with the child, and the child in the woman.

It is important here to make a realization: if the feminine is the Not God to the masculine's God, then in their relation to one another, women are like femininity, and men are like masculinity. As God relates to creation, He is eminent to it. As man relates to a newly created child, he is eminent to it. Now creation is really immanent to itself, just as woman is immanent to the child. This is the real meaning of masculinity and femininity, at least in the sense in which we say that we are all feminine to God, and in the sense that we are the bride of Christ, and so forth: the masculine is that which is eminent, and the feminine, immanent.

In fact, we can see some extremely interesting examples of this throughout history. Consider pagan religions, which worshiped idols. The gods of the pagans were immanent: they were a part of the world, not transcending it. It is no coincidence at all that the pagans almost always had priestesses. Their gods were immanent, and so their sacrifices were offered by women, that is, by the feminine. The Jews, who worshiped an eminent God, had priests to offer sacrifice. They had men, who are eminent in their human relationships, to offer to their eminent God.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Why Have Faith in a God We Cannot See?

In a recent conversation, the following question was posed:

"Why are we called to be *faithful*?


Faith in the unseen is central to Christianity.

In a sense, it is also central to science, as we scientists proceed by believing that
the world is rational and, by experimentation, we will find the hidden laws that
govern this universe.

Yet, what I don't comprehend is:

Why are we asked to believe in a Person, with whom we cannot have an explicit, clear, obvious conversation. Any relationship - professional, friendship, love - starts by establishing a clear line of communication. I can trust my best friend because I know him; I have talked to him, listened to his opinion and had lunch with him many times.

Unfortunately I do not hear the voice of God in an unambiguous manner.
I can possibly attribute some of my feelings to His voice, but can never be 100% sure. This is an almost insurmountable obstacle to my journey.

In other words, things would be immensely simpler if God's voice were audible
by all in a clear, unambiguous fashion.

What do you think? I am curious to hear your thoughts!"

My response is as follows:

Davide, thanks for starting the discussion.

I like the fact that you began by pointing out that faith is necessary for science in a certain sense. I think this is a very important, and often overlooked point. It is also a point which can lead us into a greater understanding of the question that you posed. Let us consider this notion of faith in science for a moment.

As you said, the scientists must began with the assumption that the world is rational and can be understood. To this, I would add that the scientist must believe that his senses, and indeed the senses of all other scientists, accurately depict this rational world. In other words, when the scientist's eyes report to him that a frog is green, he must believe that the frog actually *is* green. Considering this, we see that there are actually a number of beliefs at play here: the belief that the scientist's eyes accurately capture the frog, the belief that the scientist's nerves accurately transmit the information captured by the eyes, and the belief that the scientist's brain accurately processes and interprets the information received by the nerves. The scientist must also believe that this is true of all other scientists, for his work is based upon theirs, and so if there is any problem in how any of these other scientists gather and process information, then the information that he receives from them would be inaccurate. Thus, I suppose we could add to our list the need to believe that those processes which package and transmit information *out* of the scientist are just as accurate as those which gather and process the information.

Now when we think about this, we can even extend these concerns to the everyday. Whether one is a scientist or not, each person must believe that the world is rational and that the human processes of interacting with the world are rational and are accurate. We see then that we all believe in a great many things, and indeed we all accept these things on nothing more than faith, for they are not verifiable because of the fact that any attempt to verify them would rely upon the very system that we are seeking to verify.

If, then, we are to have any real basis for science, or for anything else for that matter, it is necessary that we rely upon something outside of the system. However, in this case the system is the world itself; it is not possible to examine the system from the outside. If only it were possible to approach the system from the outside, then we could have greater confidence in a great many things, but it is not.

Given the dead end that we have arrived at, let us now turn from this consideration of science to consider the other side of the issue, religion. Whereas science is that endeavor in which man observes the world around him so as to understand it, religion is that endeavor in which man seeks to interact with that which is beyond the world around him. That is, science is concerned with the natural, religion with the supernatural. While there are many differences between the two, perhaps the biggest, or most obvious, pertains to how one knows anything in each. The scientist seeks out knowledge, observing, experimenting, and analyzing. In religion, there is none of this, because religion is not concerned with anything which *can* be observed or analyzed. As has already been stated, science concerns itself with nature - the world around us - while religion concerns itself with the *supernatural* - that which is beyond the world. In religion, man does not observe, but rather, he receives revelation: the supernatural is revealed to humanity.

CS Lewis addresses this point in a helpful way. He says to consider a man who is studying a rock. That rock can do nothing to reveal itself to the man, and the man must do all of the work in coming to understand the rock. Moving up the chain, Mr. Lewis says, we come to something like a bacterium. Still, the man must do almost all of the work in understanding the bacterium, which can do hardly much more than the rock to explain itself. Now if the man were to study something greater than a bacterium, such as an insect, the insect could do perhaps slightly more than the bacterium, but still most of the work is on the man's part. As we move up the chain, the ability of the studied to reveal itself to the studier increases, and the amount of work the man needs to do decreases. In fact, the amount of work the man *is able to do* also decreases. So, when the man studies a dog, there is some degree to which the dog must cooperate if the man is to understand it. If the dog does not wish to be examined, the he may bite the man. When we get to another human being, we find that nearly equal work must be done on the part of the student and the studied. If I wish to get to know you, Davide, you must cooperate to a large degree. I cannot know all but some of the most superficial details of your life if you do not wish to cooperate, and if you do not reveal things about yourself to me. Now, what if the man wished to learn about something *greater* than himself, such as an angel? Now we find that the angel must do a great deal of the work, and the man's capabilities for actively studying have diminished a great deal. Ultimately, this chain ends with God, and when it comes to God, the man can do *nothing* to know God, just as he had to do *everything* to understand the rock. God must do everything, and here we find revelation: God reveals Himself to man so that man may know him.

When we approach things this way, we see that the whole concept of revelation makes a fair bit of sense. If God is a higher form of life than me, then of course He will need to reveal Himself to me, rather than my observing and studying Him, and this thought is all the more profound when we realize that the difference between a human being and God is infinitely more than the difference between a human being and an insect or a rock. Revelation is, by all logic, necessary if we are to know anything about a being that is greater than us, like God. Of course, God has revealed Himself to us, and so we do have some knowledge of Him.

Given this, let us return to the questions of understanding the world, for something has changed. We are no longer at a dead end in our thinking, for indeed we now have something which we did not before: input from outside of the system. In God's revelation to us, we have knowledge which is *not* within the system of the world, and we can use this knowledge to help overcome our previous problem. God has revealed that He is rational, and He has further revealed that He created us with rationality. Further, God does not reveal Himself, per se, through those things which must be observed and so catch us in a cycle of circular reasoning. Rather, He reveals Himself to us, by Grace, in our inner being. In other words, He does not reveal Himself through obtained knowledge, but through infused knowledge. Certainly, we do find God revealing us in ways we can observe - through the Scriptures, for example - but ultimately, each individual's knowledge of Him is not based upon any of these things, but upon His own personal work in the soul of the individual. Many read the Bible, while only some believe. Many study the historical reliability of the story of Christ, while only some come to faith. The difference is in God's interaction with the inner soul of the individual. These external things are only ancillary to that. We now have reason to trust our eyes and our lobes, and a basis on which to believe that the frog is green - so long as we believe in God.

But alas! So fast as our problem seems to have been solved, we are confronted with another which is even greater than the first! Before, we could not be certain of our observations of the world, and then we came to see that thanks to God's self-revelation to us, these observations had been given a foundation. Now, we find that that foundation relies again on belief - this time, not a belief in our nerves or the fundamental rationality of the world, but in God. This problem is worse because we realize that even if there were in fact something outside of the system containing God which could give us foundation to believe in Him, then we would have to believe in *that,* and so on and so on, ad infinitum.

We see that belief is necessary. We cannot function without it. Ultimately, we will have to believe in *something.* The question is about what we choose to believe in. Given this, let us consider St. Thomas' Aquinas' treatment of belief. The question is posed, 'Can the object of faith be something seen?' That is, is it possible to have faith in something which one can observe? Thomas replies:

"I answer that, Faith implies assent of the intellect to that which is believed. Now the intellect assents to a thing in two ways. First, through being moved to assent by its very object, which is known either by itself(as in the case of first principles, which are held by the habit of understanding), or through something else already known (as in the case of conclusions which are held by the habit of science. Secondly the intellect assents to something, not through being sufficiently moved to this assent by its proper object, but through an act of choice, whereby it turns voluntarily to one side rather than to the other: and if this be accompanied by doubt or fear of the opposite side, there will be opinion, while, if there be certainty and no fear of the other side, there will be faith.

Now those things are said to be seen which, of themselves, move the intellect or the senses to knowledge of them. Wherefore it is evident that neither faith nor opinion can be of things seen either by the senses or by the intellect."

Here we see that St. Thomas confirms our suggestion that faith is a choice. If we submit our minds to something because we see it in itself (what Thomas calls the first principles), then certainly we do not have *faith* in it. I do not have faith in the computer I am using to type this, but I have strict knowledge of it. In this case, if we *do not* submit our minds to it we are delusional. Similarly, if our intellect assents to something which we do not see itself, but which follows from what we have seen (what Thomas calls the second principles), that is not faith either. For example, we can come to the conclusion that the sun is made of helium and hydrogen based upon a large mass of specifically observed information, including the spectrographies of various elements, the way that light diffracts though various gases, through glass, and so on and so on. This conclusion is not faith, for it is based entirely upon the interaction of various pieces of knowledge.

Thus, we arrive at a second important conclusion. First, we realize that we must believe in *something* and cannot function if we rely only on strict knowledge, for without belief we can in fact have no strict knowledge at all. Now we realize that faith must be a choice, and further that this choice must by its very definition be different from knowledge.

Given all of this, let us turn to the question(s) that you posed: "Why are we asked to believe in a Person, with whom we cannot have an explicit, clear, obvious conversation?" The answer might be obvious by now: we cannot interact with God *other* than by belief, at least not right now (more on this below). Any interaction we have with God must be based upon a belief in Him and in that presence He has used to bring us to belief in the inner-persons of our souls. This is, of course, a key point: we believe because He has given us to believe; it is by His Grace that we believe. Thus, the question is not *as* difficult as it may be otherwise. After all, our belief is not simply something we have, of ourselves, chosen to have. It has been given to us by the One whom we believe in. In other words, we could choose to believe because God, in the depths of our souls, presented us with the choice to believe.

It is also for this reason that faith is more certain than knowledge. Knowledge is based upon the belief that everything works as we believe it does: the world is rational, our faculties accurately capture and interpret this rational world, etc. Our faith is not based upon these sorts of things, which themselves depend upon faith (so that we may have an extra-systemic foundation), but upon God's touching our souls in a personal way: knowledge of the world flows from the relationship that we have with God. Because the Holy Spirit has personally touched us and given us faith, we can move forward and view the world in a rational way.

Thus, Christ tells us that it is *better* that the Holy Spirit - which we cannot see - be given us than that He Himself be physically with us: "Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you." (John 16:7). So long is present to us physically, uttering words, performing physical actions, etc., our relationship with Him depends upon our senses. Not only does this pose the problems with which I began this discussion, but it relegates our relationship with God to the purely "physical." That greater, more perfect relationship with Him - the relationship of the soul - cannot come from talking to the man Jesus, or from walking around with Him. Yet when He left the earth, it made way for this greater relationship, the spiritual relationship.

Consider the difference this makes. The apostles spent 3 years with Jesus Christ the man, talking to Him, getting to know Him as we do our friends, eating with Him, observing Him, listening to His clear and unambiguous words, and so forth. Yet when things became difficult, they abandoned Him. Even the sight of Christ glorified in the Transfiguration was not enough to preserve their love of Him, for of the three who went up the mount to see that sight, only John remained with Him through the Crucifixion. James abandoned Him. Peter denied Him! These men had true *knowledge* of Christ - they observed Him and interacted with Him just as we do with one another, and yet they still abandoned Him, just as we so often turn upon, abandon, and hurt one another though we see how real we all are and how real is the suffering that our offenses cause to our loved ones.

Even after these men had seen Christ *rise from the dead,* they still were not swayed enough. When He had commanded them to preach the Gospel to all nations and ascended to Heaven before their eyes, they returned to the upper room. They did not get to the task He had given them. It was only at Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit came upon them and moved their souls, that the apostles got about to the work Christ had called them to. It was the Spirit which made all the difference. They had seen everything, observed everything, physically been at Christ's side and experienced everything from His miracles to His Transfiguration into Glory to His Resurrection and Ascension, all to little effect. When the *Spirit* came, this changed. The relationship *then* became solid, the Love *then* unwavering.

None of this, of course, is to the detriment of observations and evidences. Indeed, this is what makes Christ different from other purported gods. Christ entered into history, and, so far as we believe that our world is rational and our senses can apprehend it, we can examine the evidence for His life, death, and resurrection. Yet, as St. Thomas explains (see Summa Theologica II-II, 2, 10), and as I mentioned above, this is ancillary to the choice of the individual, moved by Holy Spirit, to believe. These things support faith, but they do not cause it. The cause is nothing more than God's Grace moving the soul to believe, and the soul freely choosing to consent to this movement.

Therein lies a critical point which I have alluded to above but which deserves far more explicit treatment. To quote Thérèse of Lisiuex, "everything is grace." Everything is Grace. Everything is Grace. I repeat it due to the utter importance, above all, of this statement. We believe *only* by Grace. God does not ask us to believe in anything; He moves us to. He does not ask us to trust Him though we have never heard His words aubily; He brings us to. He does not tell us to obey Him; He draws us to. Our part is only that we consent to His Grace, or that we do not consent. At one point, a person does not believe, and then God moves the person's soul. He poses a question to the soul in some way that is indescribable and yet is understood perfectly by the soul, even if in our explicit conscious thought we do not realize it. Then, He waits for our response. That response is either to answer yes, or to answer no. Either way, we do nothing. If we answer no, we continue about our life as we had. If we answer yes, we simply allow God to continue to move our soul, to continue to put belief into our soul, and so on. Our continued belief is the same: our soul is constantly touched by God in a very real way, and we continue to permit Him to work in us, or we do not.

The profound point here is that it is not that we believe or that we do not believe. It is not that we examine evidence, reasoning, or otherwise and make a decision from there. It is that in some way that we cannot now understand, God touches us, and we know it is Him, and we either accept Him or reject Him. Consider the five senses. Each receives the world in a different way. Now consider the person born blind. Because of the defect of body, such a person is not only unable to see, but were he not told about sight by others, he would not even know that such a faculty as sight exists. In the same way, our souls have senses, senses which perceive not the physical world, as do the senses of our bodies, but the supernatural world. It is the senses of the soul which can "see" God, which can "hear" Him, and so on. Yet just like the person born blind, we are completely unaware of these unless we are told by others who have them, and indeed, even once told, we cannot use them any more than the blind man can see once he is told that sight exists.

To the *soul,* not the ear, does God call, by His Grace enabling the soul to hear Him. While we may not be explicitly aware of this call, in the greatest depths of who we are, in our very souls, we do hear, and we either respond or we do not. God's first request is simply that He open the ears of the soul, and should we permit that, He begins to work in the soul more and more. When you think, Davide, that God is speaking, it is certainly difficult to be sure, for that connection between our explicit thoughts and the soul is so heavily damaged by our fallen nature. Yet the soul can hear, and we do respond in the affirmative or the negative. As we consent to God more and more, that connection is strengthened, and we come to know God's voice more and more. We see in the examples of the saints some of those who came to hear God's voice more and more clearly.

Finally, when we pass from this world, the sight of the soul can be opened to see God. Here, and only here, can we have knowledge of Him. I said above that we cannot have more than belief *now.* Now, the eyes of our souls are closed, and only by consenting to His call, only by letting Him open those eyes, can we come to *see* Him, for God is Spirit. He cannot be seen by the eyes of the body, but only of the soul. Thus, as we allow God more and more to heal us, we can come closer and closer to being able to actually see Him. Then, we can have knowledge. Now, we must have faith, for now, we have not the capability of seeing God. In a sense, then, we could say that the reason we must have faith, rather than knowledge, is because of sin. Sin blinds the soul. It is by our own choice that we are "relegated" more and more to belief. Christ's healing of the blind man meant far more than just the giving of His physical sight. Just as the blind man was given to see Christ's body because He permitted the Lord to touch his eyes, he - as can we - came to see Christ's *Spirit* by letting the Lord touch the eyes of His soul.

The journey we are on is one, not of getting to know God, but of permitting God to reveal Himself to us. We must at every moment worry, not about how to believe in what we cannot see, but simply of opening ourselves to God's voice - whether we can hear it or understand it or not! God's Grace will give to us all that we need. What we need do, simply, is not get in the way. Our struggle is not a struggle of believing. Rather, it is a struggle to be certain that we are open to God. The pharisees were given to *see* God's miracles, and to hear His voice, yet they did not believe, because they were not open to hearing Him. Those of them who *were* open to hearing God, like Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea, came to Christ. *That* is our effort. *That* is our struggle. We must fight not to put up obstacles to the Lord. If we do that, He will give to us belief, and He will lead us with His voice, and He will bring us to Himself.

God bless,