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.