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Friday, January 18, 2013

Was Paul Tillich Ant-Supernatural?

A certain group of atheists on CARM atheist board are trying to create the impression that I can't understand the things I read and that Paul Tillich is not only  not Christian but not positive toward the supernatural. The problem is mainly due to their lack of knowledge of the background that made up Tillich's thinking. They are reading Tillich as though he's an uninformed atheist cut off from the vast Knowledge that he had of theology coming out of European Lutheran background. I can't really blame them too much because if one is aware of the tradition of liberal European Christianity one might actually think the things he said are much different than he meant. The issue revolves around statements that he made to the effect hat he was anti-supernatural and didn't believe in miracles and didn't' believe in a God as a conscious being with a will. If the reader has read any of things I've written about Tillich over the years the reader will know that these allegations are more than half true,but not completely and not in the way they think.

skylurker:

"Look he in Tillich's own words.

"You approach something here that is fundamental to all my thinking — the antisupernaturalistic attitude" - Tillich (Ultimate concern - Tillich in Dialog).

I have diligently provided a series of Tillich's quotes and a series of assessments from scholars and you evade the topic and claim elsewhere to kick *** on this topic. That is your style to lose horribly and then come back and claim you wiped the floor.
He doesn't document it properly, the only real words of Tillich in that "quote" are  in quotation marks at the time. This makes laughable his claim to diligence.
.......My contention is that yes Tillich is opposed to something he calls "supernaturalism" but it's not the concept of the supernatural as it was originally introduced into Christianity by the thinker Tillich admired, Pseudo-Dionysus the areiopagite. It's the counterfeit notion of the supernatural that the enlightenment foisted upon the chruch as a straw man argument to disprove a way of thinking it didn't understand. Tillich does say radical things that are opposed to the modern evangelical Christianity, he was a liberal. He was a European nineteenth century German liberal with Hegelian influence who followed Schleiermacher. I've never denied that I've always known it. What I deny is that one can't take the major gist of Tillich view of God (being itself) and hold to it with a view that the ground of being is the origin of consciousness and that healing and other effects of supernatural (SN) are the result of God's working in the world. These are not contradictioanry positions even though they go further than Tillich back toward positons he didn't like. I do not have to the prophest of Tillich. I can disagree with him and I do disagree with him on certian things.
......In this essay  I stick to just the view of the supernatural and the working of miracles. Let's go to the source to the source where Skylurker bot this quote: a book called Ultimate Concern, Tillich in Dialogue by D.M. Brown.(1) Here is the original quotation in it's context:

Dr. Tillich: Now you touch on a problem which underlies everything, the problem of natural and supernatural. It has innumerable implications and is very difficult to simplify. In this special case, I do not deny the visionary experience and the whole scene, but if the inner voice Paul heard is called a "voice from Heaven," what does it mean? Did the earth stand in a certain relationship to the sun, in a particular position at that moment? Was the voice carried on a blinding ray? All these questions, if taken literally, are nonsense and have little to do with the meaning of the reality of that visionary experience. For the visionary experience was a certain reality. And I even speak of "breaking in," which has a supernatural sound but is not supernaturalism. You approach something here that is fundamental to all my thinking — the antisupernaturalistic attitude. If you would like to prepare yourself, I recommend the one section about reason and revelation in the first volume of my Systematic Theology, where I deal extensively with miracle, inspiration, ecstasy, and all these concepts, and try to interpret them in a nonsupernaturalistic — and that would mean also a nonsuperstitious — way.
 We see here the first indication that leads these bad readers astray. I call them bad readers because they don't do any study to find the background or the perspective he's coming to it from. They don't study theology they think they can just pick up one quote and know the world it comes out of without knowing anything about it. The last part there where he says he's going to do it in a "non-superstitious" way. So of course they assume O belief in God is superstition so that means he doesn't' believe in god. They further assume miracles is supernatural (is it?) and it's superstitious so he must mean he doesn't' believe it mean he doesn't believe in miracles becuase he does not believe  in the supernatural. That's all.In reality those three things, supernatural, miracle and superstition must be separated from each other. He does believe in supernatural, but in a certain reading of it, the original version not hte counterfeit. The counter is superstitious. His disbelief in miracles depends upon the understanding of miracles, because a certain kind of understanding is fine and other kind is what he's against. Not in this quote he says in speaking of Paul's voice from heaven that if it's literally from heaven "All these questions, if taken literally, are nonsense and have little to do with the meaning of the reality of that visionary experience" He says he values something he calls the visionary experience. He says the reality of it. It's real it's something he believes in. That's because the valid version of the SN is mystical experience. That's what Dionysus said. That was born out in the essay I did on Mathis Joseph Scheeben and the reading of him by Eugene R. Fairweather. That is very important to read because that lays out exactly what my view is. I don't have evidence that Tillich read Scheeben (2) but I see similar points he makes and similar phraseology he uses. For example the reference to "breaking in" above. Tillich says that "And I even speak of "breaking in," which has a supernatural sound but is not supernaturalism." That's exactly what Scheeben said, that supernatural is not "breaking into nature" but harmoniously working with nature. Read the essay please. It makes perfect sense for Tillich to say breaking in is not supernatrualism if one assumes he agrees with Scheeben, It makes no sense if he's some kind of sheep skin atheist because for the counterfeit version of SN that's what it is, it is breaking in and disrupting natural law. It appears to me then that this is what Tillich is really against, not the idea that the divine is causing some effect in the world but that that effect be understood in the right way. As I wrote the essay I link to above:

 Supernature is working in nature. It’s not breaking in unwelcome but is drawing the workings of nature to a higher level. Fairweather describes it as the “ground and end of nature.” In other words is the basis upon which nature comes to be and the goal toward which nature moves. Now it’s true that science removes the teleological from nature it doesn’t see it as moving toward a goal but that’s because it can’t consider anything beyond its own domain. Science is supposed to be empirical consideration of the natural realm and is supposed to keep its nose out of the business of commentary on metaphysics. Of course modern science does the opposite it become a form of metaphysics by infusing itself with philosophical assumptions and then declaring there is nothing beyond the natural/material realm.
 .......In the Dialogue book when the Moderator says he doesn't doesn't seem to believe in Christ's miracles Tillich get's into a dispute about the meaning of the term miracle.

Student: Well, in catechism in Sunday school, we learned that miracles imply a "suspension of the laws of nature." I suppose that is as good a definition as any.
Dr. Tillich: Where did you learn this? It is very interesting. Because this is precisely the idea which I fiercely combat in all my work, whenever I speak of these things. Was that really taught in your catechism, or by the Sunday-school teacher, who could not do better because she had learned it from another Sunday-school teacher who also could not do better?
 Note: he does not say "what I'm against is any idea of the SN." He says what he's against is what the student just said "suspension of the laws of nature." That is exactly what Scheeben and Fairweather are saying.SN is not opposing natural it's leading it and working with it. It makes perfect sense that Tillich would know that even if he didn't read Scheeben (I would bet he did) becuase he read Dionysus and the latter was a major influence upon him. It's any and all notions of the SN that he's oppossing but the phony version worked up in the enlightenment as a straw man against what they perceived as scholasticism.
......This leads to a very important moment in the dialogue where is sounds like Tillich is saying that he's oppossed to any idea that God would have an effect in the world, but he's not saying that at all:

Dr. Tillich: Now if you define a miracle like this, then I would simply say that this is a demonic distortion of the meaning of miracle in the New Testament. And it is distorted because it means that God has to destroy his creation in order to produce his salvation. And I call this demonic, because God is then split in himself and is unable to express himself through his creative power. In truth, of course, there are many things that are miraculous, literally "things to be astonished about," from mirari in Latin, to be astonished. And if you refrain from defining miracles in this distorted, actually demonic, way, we can begin to talk intelligently about them.
 .....The unwary might take that and say "O he's against anything to do with an effect of God in the world because  he calls it demonic. What he calls demonic is the idea that God must hang up the natural process of  cause and effect and natural law in order to have an effect. His whole idea of miracles hinges upon this concept. That God has to destroy creation to produce salvation is what he's calling the demonic idea. Not the idea that God has an effect in the world. We know form System 2 that what God has an effect upon in the world is "new creation" and that goes along with valuing the presence of God and the experience of God. So for Tillich salvation doesn't disrupt nature but completes it or makes it new, repairs it. That's the very concept of Scheeben is talking about. He could not have represented Scheeben better if he had read him (and I bet he did). I said in my essay:

Scheeben deals with the distinction between natural and supernatural faith. Throughout his writings we see this typified in terms of the tendency of the power of God to elevate humanity to a higher spiritual level. This means consciousness as well as habit. He speaks of “supernatural effects,” the effect that the pull of the supernatural has upon the natural. This is why it’s valid to think of the supernatural as an ontology, it’s a description of reality, or what is. Empirically that description tends toward the realization of human consciousness reaching to a higher level as a result of certain kinds of experiences. Scheeben expresses this in terms of “higher nature.” Super nature is the higher nature to which human nature is being elevated.
Not breaking in  or destroying nature but elevating it (in the form of the human nature) to a higher level. To Quote Fairweather:
If the lower nature is raised in all of these respects to the level of a higher nature, and especially if this nature modifies the lower nature so deeply and affects it so powerfully that the limits of possibility are reached; if God, purest light and mightiest fire, wishes through to permeate his creature with his energy, to flood it with brightness and warmth to transform it into his own splendor, to make the creature like the father of spirits and impart to it the fullness of his own divine life, if I say, the entire being of the soul is altered in the deepest recesses and in all its ramifications to the very last, not by annihilation, but by exaltation and transfiguration. Then we can affirm that a new higher nature has come to the lower nature, because it has been granted a participation in the essence of him to whom the higher nature properly belongs.(3)
.......One possible bridge bewteen Scheeben and  Tillich might be Frederich Schleiemacher. He is known as the "father of liberal theology." He was most famous for his concept of the feeling of utter dependence. Also known for his ethical theory. He was a big influence upon Tillich. Now Schleiermacher had an idea that was similar to those of Scheeben in certain ways, even though he was a protestant and Scheeben was a Catholic. In The History of Christian Thought in writing about Schleiermacher Tillich says that "I can tell you autobiographically that one of  my first scientific inquiries into theology... dealt with the concept of naturalism and super naturalism in the period before Schleiermacher. Out of this study I gained insight into the intricacies of the concept of nature in these discussions which has influenced my thinking."(4) That study almost certainly had to include Scheeben but if it did not then it did include Schleiermacher. This is almost a guarantee that he he at the works of the one of the two and that he thought in those terms. In his discretion the latter he refers to him as ant-supernaturlist. He says that Supernaturlsitic theology tried to save the tradition with the same tools which naturalism used in trying to destroy it. (5) What he's calling "supernaturalist theology" is not Dionysus although it may include Schebeen but it may not. He's talking about the counterfeit, or what i I call the counterfeit..  The tools naturalism used to destroy the tradition were reason, logic, scinece. The point is the tools he wants them to use he might call by different names but they amount to mystical experience, phenomenology and existentialism.Now he develops a crucial idea that of two concepts of nature: material and formal. Material is what we call "nature" rocks, trees, biology, formal is human nature. (6) 
.......Humanity belongs to both forms of nature, the material and the formal. He sees us has having a mind and a spirit. (7) He can't be totally against any verion of the SN if he believes in a spirit. Now here is the kicker that demonstrates he has this third way between naturism which rejects God and the phony superanturslim (although he never calls it "phony" but it's not the original version in Dionysus) which turns God into a big man in the sky and miracles into a destruction of the natural realm. The premise that must be granted and bracketed for now is that he is pro Schliemermacher and Pro Hegel. That wont be hard to prove if challenged. He says how can we have this realm that is above the human level of nature. "Does God interfere and if so in what sense?"(8) He says these are problems with which all theology has to deal. They were the problems of Hegel and Schleiermacher both of whom both of whom tried to develop a theology which transcended naturalism and supernatrualism."(9) He says modern theology has to deal with it too. Now if one reads this bit of the work  one will see him speaking of the Enlightenment concept of Harmony. Being a liberal he's fond of the enlightenment. He doesn't' see the enlightenment as a bad thing, neither do I. I speak of the "counterfeit SN" and Tillich speaks of that a "supernaturalism." He does not put all enlgithement thinknig in that category. For him as for Schleiermacher and Hegel the answer is a harmony between nature and Sueprnature and it's all harmonized in God who created the whole and is being itself. We are all harmoniously related to this eternal necessary aspect of being and deriving our being from it. As such it effects new creation, it repairs creation it doesn't suspend or destroy it.
......Any quotes the atheists quote by Tillich form the Dialogue book or any other has to be understood in this light. So he is not saying away with all concepts of the supernatural and God can never have any influence on the world. He makes that quite clear in the Dialogue book:

In truth, of course, there are many things that are miraculous, literally "things to be astonished about," from mirari in Latin, to be astonished. And if you refrain from defining miracles in this distorted, actually demonic, way, we can begin to talk intelligently about them....The first thing I want to state here is that only in a correlative relationship between the subjective and the objective sides of the experience can we speak of a miracle. This is the reason why Jesus declined when the Pharisees and the scribes asked him to perform a "show" miracle — the kind of magic trick we might watch at country fairs. They asked him to do this, and he refused. This expresses the fact that miracles, in the sense in which he was involved in them, are events which have a particular significance to the person who experiences them. That is the one fundamental statement. Miracles are subjective-objective, subject-object-oriented, always in correlation, and never comprehensible in any other way. Not merely subjective, they are not merely objective, either.(10)
He's clearly not denying miracles per se. He's denying a certain aspect of them or a view of them. Now I am not obligated to agree with Tillich on everything he says. I think we was working under limitations that kept him form seeing these things they way I do. For one thing the good Lourdes rules were only about 40 years old when he went to the conference with Einstein and that really shaped his thinking about scinece. For another thing he didn't have the charismatic movement or the M scale of W.T. Stace's theories (he may or may not have known about they were written i the 50s) but he never know of Ralph Hood's empirical work in confirming Stace. So we don't know what he would think about any of that.



(1)  Ultimate Concern, Tillich in Dialogue by D.M. Brown.
(2)  Matthias Joseph Scheeben, Nature and Grace, Wipf and Stock Publishers, 2009 (paperback) originally unpublished  1856.
for Fairweather's article on Scheeben:  Eugene R. Fairweather, “Christianity and the Supernatural,” in New Theology no.1.  New York: Macmillian, Martin E. Marty and Dean G. Peerman ed. 1964. 235-256.
(3) Fairweather, quoting Scheeben, op cit. 30
(4) Paul Tillich, History of Christian Thought, 330.
(5) ibid
(6) ibid, 331
(7) ibid
(8) ibid, 332
(9) ibid 
(10) Brown  op cit.


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