infinity and theology

May 30, 2020
Turning to reading and thinking abstract stuff about the mathematics of infinity as a break from thinking about the condition of the world and a summer that has the potential to be even stupider and more destructive than the Spring...
Cantor's theory constitutes "direct evidence that actually-infinite sets can be understood and manipulated, truly *handled* by the human intellect," Wallace wrote in Everything and More. What makes this achievement so heroic, he observed, is the awful abstractness of infinity: "It's sort of the ultimate in drawing away from actual experience," a negation of "the single most ubiquitous and oppressive feature of the concrete world--namely that everything ends, is limited, passes away."
Jim Holt, "When Einstein Walked with Gödel"
The idea of deeply understanding the properties of infinity - an abstract idea that isn't a part of our actual manifest universe, yet whose principles we can ascertain - it's a mind stretcher for sure.

It brings to mind Anselm's Ontological Proof for the Existence of God, the idea that since God is defined as that which nothing greater can be conceived, and the something with the property of existing is greater than something without that property, God must exist.

But. What if not getting the Divine hands dirty via contact with a messed up, finite lot like us is a greater property too?

...

That's one of my problems with abstract Theology - it seems to so often to have an agenda of proving a specific brand of Religion plausible - and from there True.

I think I'm overdue for reading Karen Armstrong's "A Short History of Myth", or maybe one of her other books. It was absolutely eye-opening to understand that even staying within the context of Christianity there's been diversity in thinking about God.

I think any thoughtful read of the Bible would see this multifaceted nature (the Trinity being the most well-known aspect of that) - an old Testament God who walks the Earth, who can be bargained with, who is helpless to give his favored people victory because the other side has chariots with steel wheels, and then the transition to the New Testament, the different kind of story Jesus was preaching... not to mention the reckless "oh it's going to be bad but good in the end" nature of Revelation. But, one of the tenets of American Folk Christianity is that God is Eternal and Unchanging, and there's a dissonance there that I think most practitioners don't grapple with. (But, I shouldn't go so far as to say I know they haven't grappled with it, that's a bit presumptuous.)

I think back to Mr. Johnson - I worked in his independent pharmacy during middle school and high school. He was a huge hearted man (with maybe some feet of clay from my lefty perspective - but a giant of generosity despite any of that.) Of all the men who offered to sort of step-in after the death of my dad, it was his offer I accepted the most, and we'd have dinners at restaurants with wide-ranging, man-to-young-man talks.

At one of the later dinners, I confessed my new-found skepticism/agnosticism. I was struck by his confidence that I'd grow out of it. But even now I don't know. I'm not like a strident atheist or anything, but if basic Christianity was as fundamentally true- as overarchingly true, as universally true, as explains-everything-true, as would-be-true-even-if-no-one-believed-it-true, I still can't get over the basic dilemma that caused my turn towards skepticism as a teen at Church Band camp - there were too many other religions in the world, and logic and empathy implied I should assume they take their faith as deeply as the people around me were taking theirs. And all those religions couldn't be That Kind of True.

So I guess I might able to accept a smaller form of Christianity; part of a many-paths interpretation, not taking John 14:6 ("No one comes to the Father except through me") quite so literally. And also looking to its strength as a deep cultural tradition, the wisdom embedded, and regardless of the fudamentalist claims of unchanging truth, the way it has evolved. And what people have drawn from it - sometimes for the worse but often for the better.
(followup thought on FB) I'd say, sometimes it's easier for me to appreciate what other religions bring to the table, vs the one I've been soaking in all my life. Like Islam, it's kind of cool that there's more consistency to the writing, and in some sense the Koran doesn't suffer the vagaries of translation - (though there are some interpretations of it I don't think pass humanitarian muster). Or a lot of positive things about the community and continuity of Judaism. (With some family roots there, albeit ones then filtered through activist Evangelical christianity.) Or the philosophical underpinnings of Buddhism. Or maybe most strikingly, the "many faces of God" approach of Hinduism, along with the time scale of its cosmology -- some how or other their estimates at the lifespan of the universe seem more in tune with science's best observations than any literal interpretation of Christianity...

But my understanding of all those faiths is rather sophomoric.