God as a fan fiction character

January 19, 2016 § 14 Comments

Let me tell you a story.

Bob and Fred met up with Ted.

(I didn’t say it would be a good story).

Some people can’t tell the difference, or assert that they cannot tell the difference, between reality and make believe.  The story is something that I made up, so in a sense it is not possible for me to be wrong about it.  If someone says “Bob and Fred did not meet up with Ted” either I am right and they are wrong, or they are just writing fan fiction – a different story from the one I wrote. More subtly, if someone says “Bob and Fred were not walking on a sidewalk!” he is wrong. It is my story, a bundle of concepts I crafted in my own mind, and when I wrote it I was thinking of them meeting while walking on a sidewalk. The object under contention is a story I made up myself; so, again, there is a fairly strong sense in which it is not possible for me to be wrong about its content: though it is possible for me to lie, or to tell a different story from the one I originally crafted — to make a new edition of the story. When an author revises his own story it isn’t that the original is destroyed: it is that he has written his own fan fiction, if you will, making a new and different story out of the old.  A new arrangement of some old music is in some sense a new song and in some sense is the original song; but the original song does not cease to exist when a new arrangement is made.

This is why Gandalf is a Maia and Dumbledore is gay in the original stories.  Fan fiction is, uh, a different story — but in the original stories Gandalf is a Maia and Dumbledore is gay, unless Tolkien and Rowling are telling lies about their own stories.

Now, I am not presenting a rigorous analytic theory of art or counterfactuals or the relation between implicit and explicit content here, and someone who jumps all over this as if it were a rigorous analytic theory will have missed the point. Just about any theory of make-believe stories will do for my purposes, because the main point is just that reality and make-believe are ontologically different.  (This is something that children understand, but it has to be explained to adults). It is of course possible to make fictional characters with the same names as real people and some of ‘the same’ characteristics – though of course they are fictional characteristics in the case of a fictional character, so they aren’t really ‘the same’ characteristics – or even for listeners or readers to mistake fiction for reality.

None of that, I trust, casts even a slight whiff of doubt upon the fact that fiction and reality are ontologically distinct.  If we cannot agree that fiction and reality are ontologically distinct, I’ll just tell a story about a nice little padded cell in which you can go live and we’ll call it a day. But be careful, because in the modern world you might get charged real rent for the imaginary padded cell.

The Pythagorean Theorem isn’t just some story that Pythagoras made up, because if it were something he just made up then it wouldn’t be possible for him to get it wrong. Understanding the Pythagorean Theorem would just be a matter of understanding whatever Pythagoras wanted it to mean, and the theorem would imply only what Pythagoras agrees that it implies in his story. A historical account of real events can be more or less accurate and complete (though it can never be, um, completely complete); but historical accounts are not the same kind of thing as make believe stories. Historical accounts make reference to real persons, objects, and events; fictional stories make reference to fictional persons, objects, events, aliens, creatures, magical powers, and authorial gods of the different universes standing behind the fourth wall making the fictional universe in their own image and to their own liking.

Whatever else may be the case, when we are talking about reality it is a different kind of discussion from when we are talking about make-believe. When Aquinas and Spinoza disagree about God they are not contending over whether Dumbledore is or is not gay, flitting equivocally back and forth between some original story and fan fiction, changing universes from one in which the original author is ‘god’ to one in which the reader or writer of fan fiction is ‘god’. When Aquinas and Spinoza disagree about God they are disagreeing about God, not writing two different fan fictions in which the God-character of one story isn’t really the same character as the God-character in the other story.

God actually exists, is indeed the grounding of all existence.

Folks who insist that when Mohammedans refer to God they are not referring to God have become confused, or perhaps in some cases are sowing confusion for rhetorical purposes, about the difference between reality and make believe. It isn’t that Mohammedans don’t believe in God, despite having a highly defective concept of God: it is that anti-realist ‘not the same God’ critics themselves don’t believe in God, God as real not just a character in a story. They have confused the world of concepts for the reality which those concepts are about. They have become trapped in their own stories, unable on their own terms to make reference to reality outside of the fan fiction written by the post cartesian mind.

An atheist who (incorrectly) believes God to be fictional might view the Christian and Mohammedan “Gods” to be different characters: one character written by Mohammedan fans, and a different character written by Christian fans. He can view things that way because he is an atheist: he believes God to be a made up character in a fictional story.  (In this sense he himself actually does make reference to God, though, in asserting God’s nonexistence).  A polytheist is in the same position as the atheist in this respect: he asserts the existence of gods but denies the existence of God. Someone who grasps that God is in fact real must view this as simply false. The Mohammedan concept of God is very wrong: very different from the truth. (So is the Calvinist concept of God, for that matter). But that doesn’t make it about a fictional character.

When folks attempt to apply post cartesian anti-realism consistently they tend to become trapped inside their own theories. Rather than subordinating their theories to reality they become positivistic: refusing for example to believe in authority despite being presented with the counterexamples of property owner and parent. Because their theories don’t explain the ontological/deontological existence of intangible things like mathematics, love, loyalty, authority, etc – for example their theories don’t provide them with demarcation criteria giving an algorithm for comprehensively distinguishing all genuine authority from all false authority – they refuse to believe in these manifestly real things at all, and become solipsistically imprisoned in their own minds.

As with all crazy modern doctrines, nobody sane can assert a consistently anti-realist view of everything. That inconsistency is a feature not a bug.

§ 14 Responses to God as a fan fiction character

  • […] Screeches’ concept of Bob is radically incompatible with the Neeches’ concept of Bob, the Neeches aren’t even referring to Bob when they use the word “Bob”.  These contraneeches develop a theory of the essential properties of Bob, insist that nobody can […]

  • Felix Moore says:

    I have previously found it mystifying when people insist that Muslims do not believe in/worship the same god as do Christians. But, having read your discussion, I have a suggestion on why this is.

    Perhaps it’s not because these people think God is unreal. Perhaps it’s because they don’t believe one can know God by natural theology.

    So perhaps they think that:
    a) God can only be known by faith,
    b). Muslims do not share the Christian faith in God
    (pace Pope Borgoglio), and that
    c). Muslims therefore don’t believe in the true God.

    Fair enough perhaps for non-rationalist Protestants. But disappointing that Catholics, who should recognise the validity of natural theology, should jump onto the band waggon.

  • This post has at least one deep and serious problem.

    Maia is singular. Maiar is plural. Gandalf is a Maia.

    Is this how you build trust with your readership? How can I believe anything you ever say again?

  • Zippy says:

    I grammar good.

  • vishmehr24 says:

    Zippy,
    “their theories don’t provide them with demarcation criteria giving an algorithm for comprehensively distinguishing all genuine authority from all false authority ”

    You persist in mischaracterizing the point made in this connection.
    An algorithm was never demanded but that the claims to authority (property, political etc) must be justifiable.

  • vishmehr24 says:

    Polytheist Hindus too refer to God as Creator of the Universe. Often this God is left unnamed, in contrast with their pantheon of named gods.
    So, Do they also refer to the Christian God?

  • Zippy says:

    That is exactly how I understand it: verificationism applied to authority.

    On its face the phrase “the Christian God” refers to a concept of God, not to God.

  • vishmehr24 says:

    So we are everytime supposed to accept all claims to authority?
    Because otherwise it is the evil verificationsism?
    Is this how the courts work?. They routinely adjudge between rival claims to the private property?. Should they accept the very first claim made?

  • Zippy says:

    vishmehr:
    Are you every time supposed to accept the claim that something is a rabbit?

  • […] it is gratifying to be a character in our own stories, because – as the supreme author of our own stories – it lets us play God. That […]

  • […] My own belief is that sex is also essential: that is, that “Martha who is not female” isn’t really Martha. Attempts to de-sex Martha fail at the level of necessity: if “she” isn’t a she, we aren’t actually talking about the actual Martha.  We are writing Martha fan fiction. […]

  • […] what critics see as “absolute” in my criticism of liberalism is simply recognition that the difference between reality and fiction is a categorical distinction, not a matter of gradiation. The difference between the idea of a cow […]

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