Saturday, 26 March 2016

Parlez-vous français? Layers of knowledge questioned

As I hope my friends might admit: I do like to question all sides. For indeed, if we are to assume that there are just two possibly correct ways forward in almost any apparent dichotomy is simply to accept the current categorisation system presented. For me, there is not much point in blindly siding with one camp in a debate if both sides hold weak (or potentially weak) positions. Sometimes one position might be overall strong but appeal to a false argument, for instance. That false argument does not disprove the overall position of the arguer, but it does need challenging. One scholar who has helped me a lot is Dale Tuggy, but he is by no means exempt from my approach (as I am sure he would be relieved and proud to learn!), and my recent interactions prove it. I took up of Dale's "challenge" (see his philosophical argument here and my response here, soon to be smashed no doubt on an upcoming trinities podcast episode, hey ho), and I also question the true strength of what you could call a "Jesus' knowledge argument", the subject of this post.

I recently began the latter on Facebook group, trinities, concerning layers of knowledge within a "self" (the eventual subject of this post). I don't do this questioning (or this blog) to be Mr. Inquisitorial or to make some kind of great point about my quest for bias-free truth, as if such a thing could exist, but simply because I am not a fan of partisanship, and also for the reason stated above. I also disagree that bias cannot be reduced through rigorous questioning of all sources (I still have some ways to go with some other authors whom I highly respect and whom I have yet to question in detail, in particular Daniel Wallace and Larry Hurtado), otherwise why on earth bother, frankly?

So let us return to this facebook post, to which I unfortunately cannot provide you the link as it is a closed group (although you can request to join). Here's what I wrote there about a simple dream I had (I wrote it within a few minutes of waking, as it struck me almost immediately as odd):

Last night I had a strange dream I want to share with you. I started to speak to a guy in the dream whom I thought was a vague acquaintance. Only when he looked puzzled back at me and began to stammer [...] did I realise that in fact he was French! So I introduced myself in French and it turned out (in the dream) he was a friend of a good (French) friend of mine, who had also just turned up. 
Why on Earth do I share this? Because as the author of the dream I clearly must have known that the guy couldn't understand me, and yet at the same time I hadn't a clue! What do you make of that?

The response I received was that I didn't intentionally or voluntarily generate the character - it wasn't like I was writing a book.

Before I develop: why is this debate significant? Well there are a couple of non-Tinitarian arguments that seem very powerful to non-Trinitarians (or let's be clearer still, people who don't hold to a Triune-God view) that I don't think need to be seen as total show-stoppers. I don't think they are wrong arguments, but the methodology does not necessitate the conclusions that God cannot be triune. One of these, and it comes up all the time, concerns Jesus' birth, especially Luke 1:35, which has often interested me as a point of reverse bias (I see extensive bias on the Triune-God side too!). I already looked at the non-Trinitarian treatment of Luke 1:35 on a previous post here, which I entitled: Learning to live within the confines of one's own convictions.

So why is the dream story of the French-speaking dude significant? For almost two years now I have been pretty sceptical of the two-natures explanation of Christ, which we inherit from the fifth century ecumenical council at Chalcedon as an accurate interpretation of the New Testament texts. It's a pretty neat solution to a difficult problem. How come Jesus couldn't do this or that if he was God Almighty, like die, for example (for Trinitarians, Jesus did not die according to his divine nature, since God is immortal, but he did die according to his human nature). To be honest, despite its "neatness", it often comes across pretty weird and a fair ol' distance from what the texts themselves are trying to communicate. But there was one particular aspect of the two-nature hypothesis that seemed to me almost plain... stoopid. Knowledge.

However, while I still don't like the two-natures approach, I do now think Triune-God advocates, and the fifth-century Catholic church, may have been in less trouble than some non-Trinitarian positions believe, regarding the issue of Jesus' limited knowledge. Firstly, I think unofficial orthodoxy (excuse me for the oxymoron) actually no longer tries to hold Christ to knowing and not knowing simultaneously - a logical impossibility right, if the one person, Jesus, is a single "knower"?

As far as I can tell, the traditional route was the two natures "solution". This problem nowadays, however, is more generally avoided, not by appealing to the nature flick-switch (human-divine action/ability), but rather, with perhaps some rather heavy reliance upon Philippians 2:7, to plainly state that Christ forewent omniscience when he "emptied himself" or "became nothing" in becoming a servant, a man, after having subsisted in God's form. Since the 19th century, theologians argue about quite when he might have resumed these divine prerogatives, but as you probably spotted in my discussion around Thomas' declaration, I tire quickly these days of Trinitarians attempting to show their Trinity members can be divorced from the others (can Jesus do X or Y without the Holy Spirit?) to dissect them and shove their individual divine stuff under the theological microscope, one after the other. Byuck. That's no longer a Trinitarian methodology I can embrace.

But what my dream showed me was that Tuggy's notion of "self" needs further clarification, at least for me. On his Stanford Encyclopedia entry on the Trinity, he states: "A self is a being which is in principle capable of knowledge, intentional action, and interpersonal relationships." This includes my awareness of my environment and my conscious thoughts, but according to this definition, almost all of my deeper fears, desires, memories and knowledge also, which is 90% under the surface, literally dormant. Ambivalence is common experience we can all relate too: two contrasting and simultaneous emotions. This is totally normal for a human being. So this speaks into too simplistic a view of conflicting wills and also into my knowledge. While Dale might be right in saying I didn't voluntarily create this character, he is saying this with respect to my consciousness (or whatever you call sleep consciousness). Another part of me had a ready explanation.

To conclude, this strange dream experience reminds me that the human mind is a complex entity and capable of contradictory mental processes operating at different levels of awareness. The same could be said of Christ without resorting to either fifth century dogmatic frameworks, or to much more recent kenosis theories.

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