THE DESCENT OF GOD
In chapter 3 of his 2007 study called Christianity and Scence: toward a theology of nature, Catholic theologian John F.Haught of Georgetown University introduces the notion of divine kenosis. Kenosis is a Greek word referring to the self-emptying of Christ in a hymn quoted in “Paul’s” letter to the Philipians, chapter 2. Haught says the term is validly extended to the Godhead itself. Kenosis is a metaphor that can be taken in many senses. I use it myself. But when Haught speaks of the kenosis of “God” he explicitly refers to it as a “restraint,” a “self-restriction” that “God” imposes upon himself which is meant to explain matter’s autonomous self-elaboration — the random variation, natural selection and “deep time” that characterizes all development in the universe especially biological evolution.
To speak about “restraint” implies a “definition” of God as changeable, willful, rational, “choosing” to be “humble,” even as “he” always remains capable of an all powerful intervention. Haught claims he is changing the definition of power from physical manipulation to “the power to effect change from within,” but he continues to speak as if such a change is a personal choice and decision of a God who, on background, remains ever the Almighty One, Creator of heaven and earth, not obligated to such “humility.” Haught always describes the exercise of this “new definition of power” with words like “descent,” “humility,” “self-effacement,” “restraint,” “self-restriction.” While such imagery is poetically appealing, it unambiguously evokes an anthropomorphic vision that in every respect re-presents unchanged the “active” intervening, providential “God” of the Book. It doesn’t change the definition of “God’s” nature one bit, only his “moral” choices. This “God,” instead of saying “let there be light,” said “let there be evolution;” but all else remains the same.
“The Descent of God” (a phrase he takes from other authors) is the catch-all he uses for this notion of a kenotic self-emptying God. It refers to divine “humility” but please note: the very term necessarily speaks of it not as the nature of God, but rather as “God’s” voluntary choice. This is where my problems with his “approach” begin to take wings.
I ask: what gives him the right to claim that God “descended” from what he really is, all-powerful, to what he “chose” to become, powerless? If God does not exercise “power” in the conventional sense, why isn’t that a direct revelation of what God is like, viz., powerless by nature? Does Haught know “what” God is? Aquinas says quite the opposite: “Sed quia nos non scimus de Deo quid es, … indiget demonstrari per ea quae sunt magis nota quoad nos … scilicet per effectus. Since we do not know what God is … we must discern it from what we do know, … namely his effects.”
Let’s take a look at one such “effect,” the Haitan earthquake of January 2010. By Haught’s criteria he must claim that God “restrained” himself from acting to prevent the catastrophe that killed 200,000 of the most destitute people on the globe, most of whom were children. In this case the “effect” showed that, in fact, “God” did nothing. Haught claims “God” “chose” to be powerless, and that’s supposed to be some kind of consolation for us, because it is a display of God’s “humility.” Did God consult with the Haitians about how they would have liked to be consoled under the circumstances? … perhaps a little less restraint and a little more almighty manipulative power? Haught’s claim is utterly absurd. If you grant the existence of a benevolent God, which is the fundamental message of Jesus and supposedly the premise of all Haught’s ruminations, looking directly at this effect you are logically forced to say, not that God “chose” to be powerless, but that either there is no “God” at all, or that “he” really is powerless. The effect reveals the cause. If there is a good “God,” “he” is powerless. That’s not the way he chooses to be, that’s the way “he” has to be, because that’s the way “he” is. Saying anything else belies the benevolence of God by any human standards except the double-talk designed to preserve traditional formulas.
Now, by taking Thomas’ advice and looking at “God’s” effects, especially as revealed by modern science which gives us more accurate knowledge about “God’s” effects than we have ever had before, we can see quite clearly that God is powerless because he is identified with whatever configuration of matter’s energy happens to be at issue always and everywhere in the vast expanse of the universe and the immeasurable depths of astronomical time. If we were talking about human beings, “God” is the existential energy of the material configuration that is humanity, its intellectual and moral capabilities and social emanations. In the Haitian earthquake, “God” was the energy of plate tectonics and the force vectors of falling buildings and fragile human flesh. God is, by his effects, quite obviously not a rational personal entity apart from and capable of acting upon the particular configurations of matter-energy that were active in the event. If “God” is anything, “he” is the existential energy made available for the configurations of matter to be and to be what they are. God is the being of the things that are. He does nothing.
If you say “God” could have, but voluntarily chose not to intervene in the earthquake, then, pardon me, but you are calling “God” a moral cretin. And I, for one, will not sit quietly while this level of blasphemy is perpetrated for no other purpose than to preserve the formulatiuons of institutions to which we cling obsessively, not because they reveal the real “God,” but because they justify our sense of superiority, our disdain for others as inferior, and the arrogant assurance that “we alone are blessed” with the divine right to rule over all others and to plunder their lands in order to do so.
What is Haught saying? … that “God” decided to let thousands and thousands of helpless individuals die in order to maintain some abstract “non-interventionist” stance to accommodate the respected professor’s hypothesis? This is utterly ridiculous. Face the facts as revealed in the effects. Either there is no “God” at all, or the “God” that really is, is not a moral agent as we understand the term i.e., “he” does not reason, he does not choose, he does not change his mind, he does not make decisions and he does not intervene in human affairs … because it’s not what “he” is like. This is the real “God” as known through his effects. The real God, as Aquinas counseled, is identified with the natural order. It’s up to the theologian to try to understand it and explain it. But it does not make not make it one bit more intelligible to claim some ludicrous “fact” about a “God” that no one knows except through his effects. Such inane “explanations” are gross puerile antropomorphisms that are internally incoherent, and of no value except to maintain the traditional formulations of a self-divinizing socio-political projection called western Christianity — the ideological product of the Roman Empire and justification for its political program — not the message of Jesus the Nazarene.