[In a recent article I published a Meditation on Personhood and God’s Creation. The rejection of the very idea of God’s Creation, supposedly on scientific grounds, is necessarily at the root of the identity crisis that now threatens to destroy the self-government of the American people. Our claim to self-government is predicated on an understanding of right that makes no sense apart from the Creator’s authority. Can we restore our confidence in that claim without challenging the rejection of God’s Creation?
Can we challenge that rejection without exposing the specious understanding of God and science on which it relies? Like the aforementioned article, my column today is offered simply as a reminder of the fact that the premise of God’s Creation, taken for granted in the national principles set forth in our Declaration of Independence, is also a premise of reasonable thought, as necessary to scientific claims of truth as the understanding of right and rights is to the survival of our Constitutional government. As we hesitate to think this through, violence, fear and tyranny bid once again to rule the earth.]
Descartes said “I think, therefore I am.” Of course, though the statement “I think” uses two words, it refers to three distinct ideas, since both “I” and “think” assume the ongoing activity of being. Some languages (Hindi for example) makes this clear by using a syntax that includes an ontological reference. “I think” becomes “I am thinking.”, expressed in three words instead of two. Along these lines Descartes famous statement becomes “I am thinking therefore I am.” But in this formulation, only one word makes reference to what is universal and necessary to any expression of thought whatsoever. “I” can be replaced with “he”, “she” or any other word we like. “Thinking” can be replaced with “running”, “cooking” or any other such activity.
But in every formulation of thought, no matter how simple or complex, the activity of being has to be present to mind, has to be alluded to in some way. We cannot deny that this is so without proving its truth. If we say, “Nothing has to be present to mind in every formulation of thought.”, the activity of being is still present, in reference to nothing at all. There is no place to hide from the activity of being, as such.
Am I a God at hand, declares the LORD, and not a God far away? Can a man hide in secret places so that I cannot see him? Declares the LORD. Do I not fill heaven and earth? Declares the LORD. (Jeremiah 23-25)
Descartes may have intended his dictum to point toward the primacy of thinking, but in fact it inevitably confirms the primacy of being. Thought, like all else in existence, is a function of being. Being is the necessary presence, the inescapable assumption, the inevitable and inescapable predicate that can never be consciously thought away, for it is essential for consciousness to be.
Thus the common belief must be false which maintains that Cartesian thinking reveals a way to build an atheistic edifice of “science”. At least, it must be false given the understanding of God that takes His name to be nothing more or less than an assertion of the ineluctable plenitude of being; the understanding Moses receives, being sent to “bring the children of Israel out of Egypt”:
Then Moses said to God, “If I come to the people of Israel and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is His name?’ what shall I say to them? God said to Moses, “I am what I am”. And he said, “Say this to the people of Israel ‘I am has sent me to you.’”
No matter what they do, none of the philosophers who pretend to give an exposition of human understanding have ever found a starting place for thought that escapes the primacy of being itself. The best they can do is to pretend it does not matter, which is as much as saying the same of all existence.
If existence matters, however, then the primacy of being itself matters most of all, as the inevitable starting point for all thought, particularly as it focuses upon itself. Being as such has to contain all that is necessary for the existence of all that is. Are regular relations perceivable in existence? They have their root in being itself. Do those relations constitute, with regularity, distinct ways of being? Then those distinctions must have their root in being itself. All perception, all experience, all knowledge of any kind whatsoever, must take root in being, must be nothing else than some permutation of the tautology of being, which is therefore what thoroughly preoccupies thought in every possible way of thinking.
It is only on account of the tautology of being, in itself as such, that reason exists to recognize and catalogue what departs from it. This departure is by way of being all that exists. Without denying itself, empirical science cannot therefore deny that it is simply a consequence of this departure, this starting point for all that is. But as being itself is ever present, any departure from being itself is always, as it were, the future, in terms of being as such, which becomes thereby its past, the antecedent being in which its every way of being was anticipated, informed and created, as it were, from nothing else at all.
This is obviously just a way of saying that all creation is the will of God. But it is also a way of introducing the concept of will that reveals its dependence on the tautology of being, which is to say the self-sameness that both explains and denies the temporal significance of futurity, allowing it to be overcome. For though the world is God’s will, He is ever present within it, so that His will is never just a matter of time, but of the determination of His being that appears in distinct expressions of His will, giving rise, as they appear, to the perception of space and the meaning of time that corresponds with the appearance He has thus already determined for them.
On account of God’s will, things are never just what they appear to be. They are always also what He appears to be in them. Therefore, we cannot understand the appearance of things without seeking to understanding the way in which being is, in relation to itself, in that appearance. This is the way in which the will of being itself is preserved in the appearances, constituting and preserving itself as such in whatever guises it makes its appearance.
Thus, to preserve what appears one must first serve the will of God which accounts for the appearance. So Christ says “Seek ye first the kingdom of God, and all other things will be added unto it.” This is the natural corollary of the simple truth that “With God, all things are possible.” Appearance may be the province of human understanding, but possibilities are the domain of the LORD. For what is possible presumes the determination of God’s will that makes it possible. That determination is the past for which every possibility is the future. It comes to itself in the moment when past and future meet in the unceasing course of God’s self-determination, which is the Word through which the universe appears to and does exist, in all its infinite and inexhaustible variety.