On Perfection

Me: What is the primary attribute of God?

Her: Non-existence!

Me: Thank you for that illustration.

Her: What?

Me: Had I asked for the primary attribute of an unicorn, you would have said, “It has one horn.” For a vampire, you would have said, “it drinks blood.” But for God, you claim “non-existence” as the primary attribute–even though, categorically, this is never attributed to God by any source. This demonstrates that your belief in an irrational universe is not something that you truly accept, but something you willfully enforce upon yourself.

Her: Whatever.

Me: Perfection. The primary attribute of God is perfection.

———-

So, what does it mean that the primary attribute of God is “perfection?” For those lacking a classical education, this definition is problematic; most modern dictionaries define perfection as a state of excellence. But even a moment’s thought should reveal to the diligent student that no amount of “excellence” makes “perfection”. In fact, the English word ‘perfection’ comes from the Latin ‘perfectio, perficere’, which means ‘to complete.’ To be perfect, then, means to be complete; to lack nothing nor have any incomplete attribute.

What does that even mean, and how does it impact theology?

Let us illustrate this topic with an ontological point I often find myself having to make: the difference between God and ‘gods’. There is understandable confusion on this point, not only because of the language used (differing only by a capitalization), but because of the incorporation of God into various mythological stories–at which point God effectively functions as ‘a god’. But let us look at how the attribute of perfection can clearly distinguish the differences between these two categories of being.

– Existence. The first and most obvious consequence of perfection is existence, and this has been covered before. A ‘god’ is simply an anthropomorphization of a natural phenomenon. Lightning exists empirically; however, we can only say “Thor exists” by personifying and anthropomorphizing the behavior of lightning. Contrarily, God (being defined as perfect) contains all things which have been, are, will be, could be, and could not be. God exists by necessity of definition.

– Knowledge. Gods are often described as ‘wise’ or even ‘all-knowing’. The modern student of course, will point to quantum-mechanical uncertainty to demonstrate the folly of omniscience, and will be correct in doing so. If gods existed, they would be personal beings, with limited points-of-view, subject to the same quantum observer-effect as any other limited consciousness. God, however, is perfect: God has neither a personal point-of-view nor an impersonal point-of-view, and therefore cannot be subject to the observations which we, at our current level of understanding, consider ‘paradoxical’ in quantum mechanics. Just as a photograph showing an orange circle and a photograph showing an orange triangle may be understood to represent the object (once we understand that it is the three-dimension figure of a traffic cone), the apparent paradoxes of quantum mechanics would disappear once the limitation of personal perspective is removed.

That there is more to understand about quantum mechanics than we currently do is proved by its inability to be reconciled with general relativity.

– Morality. Many modern Christians view God as the source of all good, and ‘the Devil’ as the source of all evil. However, this theology is actually borrowed from other middle-eastern religions, notably Zoroastrianism: God has been reduced to the role of Ahura Mazda, and a ‘Devil’ has been constructed from Sathaniel (the Angel of Temptation) and a few other references (such as ‘Lucifer/Light-Bringer’; actually a title of the King of Babylon) to take the place of Ahriman.

Original Hebrew theology was both simpler and more profound. Good and evil are not opposite attributes, but a continuous scale. Just as something which contains less kinetic energy than another object many be said to be ‘cold’ relative to that other object, good and evil are simply measures of how in accordance with God a thought or action may be. Separation from the nature of God is possible for us, because we have free will. This attribute of having free will, of being causative agents in our own right, is what is called “being made in the image of God.”

– Action. Gods act. It is necessary for them in order to fulfill their role in mythology, to demonstrate the values of the cultures which produced them, that they take action. This is also where the greatest confusion lies in differentiating between ‘God’ and ‘a god’—we are used to referring to God in the context of mythology (such as the two Genesis accounts, where God is portrayed talking and walking in a garden). This leads to practices such as intercessory prayer, in which we ask God to take action on our behalf.

But let us examine for a moment the consequence of God taking action. During the course of the action, no matter how swiftly completed, the action would be incomplete. As the author of an incomplete action, God would be incomplete; that is to say, God would be imperfect. God would not be God. God, therefore, does not act. God causes. Prayer, then, is meant to bring us into communion with the nature of God—not to use God as a magic wishing-well.

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7 responses to “On Perfection

  1. Thank you for clarifying your view on how you describe God. The thoughts expressed here do bring some questions to mind. I recall that in a previous conversation (though I have not found it, and sadly the best memory is not as good as the palest ink), there was mention of God having this quality of perfection.

    As you have described the implications of perfection, I am left wondering whether that quality intellectually bootstraps God’s existence. To say a thing or idea is complete before one has established existence is to imply that existence. This may seem like nitpicking, but for a slow learner like me I try to have as many ducks in a row as I can manage.

    Also, as an atheist, then, I would have to disagree that God is in a state of perfection by nature of this idea that you describe. However, since I appreciate that I do not fully understand your position, I do not think it would be appropriate or even desirable to disagree with the ideas you describe just yet. So instead I shall simply state that I look forward to any further clarifications you can provide.

  2. Consider the concept of “the universe” for a moment. As human beings of limited perspective (and capacity), we have certainly not observed everything that is. We continue to push the boundaries of our observations farther out into space, and by definition farther back into time. And we tie together everything that we have witnessed into theories which seem to us to be valid and consistent. Nonetheless, the only attribute that all such theories definitely have, is that they will eventually be replaced by better theories.

    Yet we speak of “a universe”; a single, self-consistent reality ordered by one set of principles–perhaps even a single “ToE”. How can we say that there is “a universe”, when we know that there are countless galaxies of countless stars beyond our vision? And who knows what else begins or ends where we cannot see it? Simple–we have DEFINED the universe as the totality of existence. The universe exists because we have defined it in such a way that it must exist–there must be a totality of existence. That is not “bootstrapping” the universe into existence; it is simply applying a label to a definition which must be true.

    The same applies to God. If all physical things are effects of a prior cause, and the universe is a physical thing, then there must a FIRST cause which brought about the universe; and that cause, being uncaused, cannot be physical in nature. The metaphysical First Cause is God (QED). Where cognitive dissonance often arises is attempting to go beyond that basis, not by reasoning forward, but by attempting retroactively then to assign attributes to God in accordance with mythology. However, it is not the function of mythology to inform us of the nature of God. Rather, the function of mythology is to help us understand ourselves; to accomplish this, it often uses gods as a vehicle for authority.

  3. Pingback: Is This Free Will? | Home of the Little-Known Blogger·

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