Truthiness and Godiness

There is, of course, no such word as “Godiness,” but you will recall that not very long ago, there was no such word as truthiness, and now it is hard to do without it.

Truthiness is the kind of thing that, in questions that can be solved by adducing evidence, might be called plausibility.  But how shall we assess the kinds of questions that cannot be answered by adducing evidence?  For people who persist in asking such questions, some standard needs to be found.  “Truthiness” is a way of supplying such a concept and making fun of it at the same time.

And it is by analogy to Stephen Colbert achievement that I would like to offer “Godiness” as a useful concept.  I don’t like it much, myself, but it is a way to resolve an issue that just won’t go away.

There are two ways to go at Godiness [1]  One is to imagine that we know something about God in an intuitive way.  I hear that behind some appeals for tolerance that are admirable so far as the tolerance is concerned, but that fail, as I see it, on the knowledge side.  Here are some.

“God is known by many names.”  We can all verify the “many names” part of that idea, but on what basis do we know that these used are referring to the same being?  We could know that if we share a sense of Godiness.  That would enable us to say that we know that the substance is the same even as the names vary.  Knowledgeable people can tell you that linguini and tagliatelle and rigatoni are all just names for pasta but that is because we have full access to “what pasta is” so we can say that these are just shapes that pasta might take.

But God isn’t like pasta.  The nature or character of God or of the gods is in principle inaccessible to us.  So saying that the different religious worship the same God by different names is not like saying that you can get pasta in different shapes.  Without asserting some belief in Godiness, this route will not take us far.

This strategy is taken up by people who are very wary of intellectual arrogance.  Anything that sounds like “We know the truth and you do not:” is something to renounce and escape from.  Further, since dividing the world into “Fidels” [2] and “Infidels”  can follow directly, so people who want an end to conflict fueled by religious differences will take care not to call anyone an Infidel.  But then, no one is a Fidel either.  That seems a large price to pay.

Is there a way out of the Godiness trap?  Of course.  It is called “revelation.” [3]  Although it is hard to see in in the English word, the important part of “revelation” is the “-vel” which points to “veil.”  The notion of revelation is that the truth is veiled to all but to some, the veil has been re-, that “drawn back.”  One the veil has been drawn back, we can see the truth clearly.  That’s how that word works.  You can guess what is going to be “revealed” as the curtain continues to rise, right?

And who can see the truth clearly?  Well…the people who accept that this event or this person or this text is revelatory, that it shows clearly what the fundamental truth is.  So I may take a text to be revelatory and you may not.  

This gets’s played for humor sometimes.  Take this line for instance:

Jurgen then went unhindered to where the God of Jurgen’s grandmother sat upon a throne, beside a sea of crystal. [4]

The idea that someone—Jurgen, in this case—could take seriously a character known only as the God of Jurgen’s Grandmother seems ridiculous and that is why Cabell can play it for laughs.

But in fact, there are all over the world, religious texts that I do not accept as revelatory because they do not accord with the religious texts that I accept as revelatory.  And if they are not the God of Jurgen’s Grandmother, they might just be the god of Wooloo-Wooloo the Prophet of Khan.  

And since religious are group affairs, I can say that “we” accept this text to reveal the fundamental truth about God and life and being and purpose and therefore, we do not accept that text as revelatory for us.  Please note the difference that “revelatory for us” makes in that sentence.  This is what makes the conservative right so twitchy about the prospect of Sharia Law coming to little villages in Iowa.  When one group says, “According to the Prophet…” the other group needs to be able to say, “Not according to our prophet…” without being punished for it.  That is the actual goal, as I read it, of the “God is known by many names” people.

There is no need for us to say that you do not accept the truth that is “re-vealed” i.e. “unveiled.”  We have not seen the truth you see.  We can say, and we should say, that it does not match the reality to which we have given our allegiance.  We don’t need to say it is wrong.  All we really have to say is that it isn’t ours.

And that is how revelation helps us escape the Godiness trap.  Furthermore, choosing revelation, rather than Godiness, does not lead to inevitable conflict because we are in no position to condemn the truth you say you see.  We have a view of Truth, to which our revelatory tradition binds us and we will do everything we can to live up to its demands and glory in its gifts.  We don’t need to say your is wrong; we need only say it is not ours.

Now within a revelatory community, of course, there can be many variations in just what is revealed and just what the implications for that revelation are for us.  In fact, Christians who have focused on the What of revelation rather than the Who is being revealed, have been willing to call each other infidels for having “the wrong view” of what the implications of a doctrine are.  This is a bunch of “fidels” calling some of their members “infidels.”  It seems a shame.

It seems to me that the notion of revelatory communities ought to lead to dialogue.  I know it doesn’t do that very often, but I think it should.  Godiness doesn’t lead anywhere, so far as I can see.

[1]  I have tried as best I can not to twist the question if one direction or another, but there really isn’t any way to do that.  You do have to choose between god and God and between god and gods.

[2]  It isn’t so much that every noun ought to have an opposite that looks like it.  It’s just that “infidel” is a word common to history, whereas there is no such general word—I am leaving out General Castro—as fidel.

[3]  This is one of those fire and frying pan problems.  I don’t mean to imply that using revelation as your source for what God is like is a solution with no further problems.  It does solve the Godiness problem, however.

[4]Jurgen: A comedy of justice by James Cabell

About hessd

Here is all you need to know to follow this blog. I am an old man and I love to think about why we say the things we do. I've taught at the elementary, secondary, collegiate, and doctoral levels. I don't think one is easier than another. They are hard in different ways. I have taught political science for a long time and have practiced politics in and around the Oregon Legislature. I don't think one is easier than another. They are hard in different ways. You'll be seeing a lot about my favorite topics here. There will be religious reflections (I'm a Christian) and political reflections (I'm a Democrat) and a good deal of whimsy. I'm a dilettante.
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