Abandon Text!

W. H. Auden once said: "Poems are not finished; they are abandoned." I have been abandoning writing projects for many years, since only the pressure of deadline and high expectations ever got me to finish, or even start, anything of merit. This blog is an attempt to create a more consistent, self-directed writing habit. Hopefully a direction and voice will emerge.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Intentionalist paradigms

The philosophy of religion turns almost entirely on the question of intentionalism; that is, whether things can be understood primarily as events that just happen through a chain of causation, or whether they can be understood according to the intentions that precipitated them.
This may seem really obstruse, but it's fundamental to how we understand the world. It is a more fundamental question than even the existence of God. In fact, most of the proofs of the existence of God seem to run into more trouble with intentionalism than with anything else. Most people do not have a hard time conceiving of an omnipotent, omniscient being that could create an entire world. What bugs them is the notion that such a Being could have deliberately, intentionally created this world, with all its flaws and evils and shortcomings. Because, if you believe in God, you have to believe that everything that happens is happening according to God's intent, which means you have to believe God allows all kinds of deplorable, unspeakable horrors to happen. The whole "problem of evil," as it is called, turns on the problem of intentionalism. It's bad enough that bad things happen; but if they happen because someone intended them to happen, then you "take it personally."

I think most people, if they think deeply on the matter, will find absolute intentionalism to be unacceptable. It is inconceivable to me that absolutely everything that happens is happening to an exact, calculated end. You have to go through some pretty extravagant apologetics to make everything part of a master plan. It does not, as philosophers say, "save the appearances" -- it simply doesn't jive with our most basic perceptions of the world.

What makes the matter more perplexing is that the opposite of absolute intentionalism -- rank materialism, and with it, Skinnerian behaviorism -- does not save the appearances, either. Every rock and tree may not be the result of someone's intent, but we certainly believe that we have intentions. Consciousness and awareness are phenomena that materialism struggles to contain and inevitably fails. And that mystery that defies explanation is sitting right in the middle of all of existence -- even right in the middle of the materialist's attempt to explain it away.

Is it possible to have a theology that can believe in God and spirit, and yet not believe in absolute intentionalism? I think it is, but it's more of an intuition than a firm conception for me right now. It would mean questioning our very conceptions of what it would mean for God to be God.

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