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Tuesday, April 01, 2014

The doctrine of analogy

Still reading Keith Ward's God: A Guide for the Perplexed (2013 edition). Here's where I am now (p. 60 - 61) ...

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[...] When the second Isaiah says, 'Your Maker is your husband' (Isaiah 54:5), he is not saying that God is a male who has gone through a wedding ceremony. He is saying that the Israelites are not just slaves of God, bound to submit to the divine will in fear. They are in a much closer and more loving relation than that, something like the relation a wife should be in with her husband. There is an analogy between the relation of husband and wife and the relation of God and created persons, or at least some created persons.

God cannot really get married, and is not even a person, much less masculine in gender. But if you think of God as a loving husband, it will put you in the most appropriate and fulfilling relation to God -- or so the prophet Isaiah says, anyway. And many generations of Jews and Christians have found that to be true in their own experience. Thinking of yourself as married to a totally faithful and loving person is good for your self-esteem, your sense of security, and your general happiness. Moreover, when you do think like that, you may well tend to have experiences of God's love or compassion or presence which reinforce the image you took on trust from the prophet to begin with. At any rate, enough people do have such reinforcing experiences to make that religious tradition an enduring and powerful one.

There is of course a danger that you might just adopt that way of talking because it provides comfort and security. That is what critics of religion say -- faith is just a crutch for emotionally insecure people. There are two things to be said to that. First, there is nothing wrong with emotional security, and anything that helps us to have it deserves at least a second look. Second, these images of shepherds and husbands did not evolve because they give emotional security. They arose from an overwhelming prophetic experience, in moments of inspiration, and it is simply good luck that they are also emotionally satisfying (some of the time, anyway).

The basic images and analogies of religion are not are not invented by philosophers: they are spoken by prophets, and the rest of us have to get on interpreting them as well as we can. The general interpretation given by Aquinas is usually called 'the doctrine of analogy', and it is this: 'So far as the perfections signified are concerned the words are used literally of God ... but so far as the way of signifying these perfections is concerned the words are used inappropriately' (in the Summa Theologiae, Ia, 13, 3).

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