By David L. Paulsen
Scott asked me if I would share with you some of my work defending our LDS understanding of God and to that end I have prepared a bibliography. There’s two sets of materials being passed out, one is a packet. There is a copy of the bibliography in that packet and then there’s two individual sheets and you should either get the packet or the pair of two separate sheets and you’ll find the bibliography in one of them. I’ve also copied a few reprints of articles.
As time permits, I want to look at two or three of these articles but before I launch into a consideration of those, I’d like to provide just a little personal background if you will indulge me that will perhaps explain how I developed a passion for apologetics and also put apologetics in a proper perspective.
Growing up in Ephraim in Sanpete County I was acquainted, and then only casually, with four non-Mormons–two of whom subsequently converted. There must’ve been some in my community who openly challenged Mormon beliefs, but somehow I never encountered them. My first exposure to such challenges occurred after my sophomore year of college when I began my tour of active duty with the United States Army Reserve.
During basic training at Fort Ord, California, I bunked across the aisle from a young man whose last name was Russell. He was a graduate student in physics at the University of California, a physics major, a lapsed member of the RLDS Church, and an agnostic. As we cleaned our rifles and polished our boots, we became engaged in religious discussions. Among other things he challenged the historicity of the Book of Mormon and even suggested that there was no compelling basis in either reason or experience for even believing in God.
I was stunned to hear beliefs that I had simply taken for granted disputed and disputed by a very bright young man. There was no FAIR Web site to which I could turn for help, so I sent an SOS to my dad explaining my friend’s objections to our faith and asking for help. And help came back quickly, almost by return mail. To address the Book of Mormon historicity question, Dad sent me a copy of his Melchizedek priesthood manual, An Approach to the Book of Mormon, by Hugh Nibley. Will we ever see that day again?
On the question of God’s existence, Dad sent me copies of articles by prominent scientists who found evidence for God in the causal and teleological orderliness of the world.
All that dad sent me I found very helpful, and while I made little headway in convincing my friend, I came away from the experience with confidence that faith challenged could be defended.
In that regard I want to commend the work of FAIR. What dad did for me, FAIR apologists do for many every day. I’m always very impressed by the competent and the sensitive and the quick responses that troubled members posing questions or inquiring non-members asking questions receive from this dedicated core of defenders of the faith and that many of you are here in this audience and I just want you to know that I commend you for your very able defense of the faith. Keep up the good work.
Following my tour of active duty I received a call to serve in the Northern States Mission, with headquarters in Chicago. My first assignment was in Waukegan, on the north side. At the time of my arrival the mission had a program to place books on church history and doctrine in local libraries. The program went beyond mere placement however; we were instructed to offer our books as replacement for those books which misrepresented our doctrine, history or people.
Our instructions were should any librarian actually make such a trade to immediately discard or destroy the offending books. Never, under any circumstances, were we to waste our time reading them. One local librarian made such a trade, leaving me in possession of several intriguing titles including: The Crimes and Mysteries of Mormonism by Stenhouse; Mormonism: The Islam of America by Kinney and No Man Knows My History by Brodie. These titles provided temptation beyond my capacity–or should I say my willingness–to resist. During the next few months of my mission I poured over these and similar books. By the way, I don’t recommend this.
I was left troubled, but not without faith. Questions drove me to more intense study and to my knees while I continued my missionary labors. In time God blessed me with sacred spiritual manifestations which confirmed my faith in the divinity of our Lord, in the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon as a second witness of His resurrection and Atonement, of the prophetic calling of Joseph Smith and of the reality of the Restoration.
These witnesses of the Holy Ghost and similar ones that I have experienced throughout my life serve as the bedrock of my faith. Apologetics for me, I’m sure it’s not for any of you, is ultimately foundational. But apologetics has been a lifetime passion, ever since those discussions in basic training in 1957.
Most of the work that I have published has had an apologetic purpose. If you want to glance for a moment at the selected bibliography that I left you, I’ll say a word about some of the items there.
I published several articles having to do with the embodiment of God. My first article “Must God be Incorporeal?”1 was published in Faith and Philosophy which is the official journal of the Society of Christian Philosophers. In that article I look at several philosophical arguments that attempt to show that God cannot be embodied. I set these arguments out in premise, in conclusion form and carefully analyze and evaluate them and conclude that none of them is ultimately sufficient to show that God can’t be embodied.
And I have a number of articles that deal with historical questions, “Early Christian Views of a Corporeal Deity: Origen and Augustine as Reluctant Witnesses”.2 In that article I attempt to show that biblical peoples, formative Judaism, primitive Christianity, all taught that God is embodied. Origen and Augustine were two of the most uncompromising incorporealists yet I draw most of my evidence for early Christian belief in a corporeal deity from their writings and that’s why I list them as reluctant witnesses.
After that article was published, Kim Paffenroth from Notre Dame published a short note in the Harvard Theological Review challenging my interpretation of Saint Augustine and the Harvard Review allowed me to write a rejoinder that was published along with Kim Paffenroth’s comment.
Finally in 2002 and with the very able assistance of Carl Griffin who works for FARMS and who has done his work in patristics; we published a longer sequel to the earlier articles on divine embodiment: “Augustine and the Corporeality of God”.3 We also published in BYU Studies a much longer article4 that develops the case for primitive belief in a corporeal deity much more fully, also looks at the Restoration of the doctrine that God is embodied and includes the philosophical arguments from “Must God be Incorporeal?”
I published several articles dealing with the attributes of God more generally, including an interview5 that was published in Modern Reformation, a conservative Protestant journal, just last November. I’ll say more about that article before I get done today.
“The God of Abraham, Isaac, and (William) James”6, I’ll say more about that article also. It was published in the Journal of Speculative Philosophy. Carl Mosser, in The New Mormon Challenge, in referring to this article tells his readers, don’t let the title fool you; “The God of Abraham, Isaac, and (William) James” is really a defense of the God of Joseph Smith. Which, indeed, it is.
I’ve published a number of articles that have to do with the problem of evil in which I argue that if we understand God to be the kind of being that Joseph Smith described him as being, we can provide a much better answer to the problem of evil that those who begin with classical conceptions of the divine attributes.
Got a couple of pieces that deal with a new movement in twentieth-century Christian theology called the ‘Openness of God’, there’s much that openness thinkers have in common with Joseph Smith and Latter-day Saints in general. And then a number of pieces that have to do with the origin and development of the Mormon understanding of God.
Now, I’d like to look at just two, maybe three as time permits, of the items mentioned in that bibliography. First I would like to look at this interview that appeared in Modern Reformation last fall.
Last September I received an invitation from the editors of Modern Reformation, a conservative evangelical journal, to be interviewed regarding our LDS understanding of God. The editor asked me to answer, by the way in 1300 words, five questions.
1. Please briefly explain to our readers how the LDS Church’s doctrine of God is similar to or different from the traditional Christian doctrine of the Trinity.
2. Christian theologians from all the major traditions (Roman Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant) are united in their belief in monotheism (only one God in this and any other universe, existing beyond time and space). Is LDS theology monotheistic or is it polytheistic?
3. What is the relationship between man (specifically Adam) and God? Is God an exalted man? Is it possible for men to become God? Was God once mortal flesh like we are?
4. There have been a number of discussions recently among evangelical Protestants about the nature of God’s being. Some theologians, commonly called “Open Theists,” are asserting that God grows in knowledge in response to the actions and choices of his creatures. Does the LDS doctrine of God allow for a similar view of God’s growing and changing according to time and circumstance?
5. Is it proper, in light of the significant differences between traditional Christian theology and the doctrines of the LDS Church, to call faithful Mormons “Christians”?
If these questions sound like an ambush, you’re probably right. The preamble in the final question gives it away: “…in light of the significant differences between traditional Christian theology and the doctrines of the LDS Church” they’re already, of course, anticipating my answers “Is it proper … to call faithful Mormons “Christians”?”
I hesitated accepting the invitation, not sure if I wanted to be an accessory to this not-so-hidden agenda. So I sought counsel from colleagues. One wrote back “Of course it’s a set-up, my advice is to politely decline the invitation.” Another wrote, “I think it’s a no-win situation no matter what you say.” Nonetheless, despite this counsel I disregarded it, again, and ventured.
In the published interview, Modern Reformation (MR) prefaced my (DP) responses as follows. (And, by the way, if you haven’t found it already there’s a copy of this interview that should have been handed out to you so you can follow along.)
MR: Christians have long been suspicious that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS) is a heretical sect, in part because of a faulty view of God. Recently, however, some evangelical theologians have begun espousing views that are similar to traditional LDS teachings. MR asked noted Mormon philosopher David Paulsen to explain to our readers what the LDS believes about the nature of God, especially in light of Open Theism, social Trinitarianism, and other trends in evangelical theology.
As a preface to my answers to the interview questions I wrote:
DP: Before addressing your questions, it is important for readers of Modern Reformation to understand that Latter-day Saints have no official theology as such. Our doctrines are based not on rational theologizing, but on what we believe to be divine self-disclosures. Joseph Smith, founding prophet and first President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints once said:
Could we read and comprehend all that has been written from the days of Adam on the relation of man to God…we should know little about it…Could you gaze into heaven five minutes, you should know more than you would by reading all that ever was written on the subject.7
Joseph claimed many such privileged gazes, beginning with his “first vision” in 1820 when God the Father and the resurrected Lord appeared to him near Palmyra, New York.
Revelations that came to or through Joseph Smith have been published in three books which, together with the Holy Bible, constitute our “standard works” or canon. These are the Book of Mormon, the Pearl of Great Price, and the Doctrine and Covenants. Together, with official declarations of the First Presidency of the Church, these standard works constitute the principal sources for a Latter-day Saint understanding of God. In addition, we give significant, though not binding, weight to non-canonized discourse by Joseph Smith and other latter-day prophets and apostles. These are the sources I will cite as I attempt to answer your questions.
MR: Please briefly explain to our readers how the LDS Church’s doctrine of God is similar to or different from the traditional Christian doctrine of the Trinity.
DP: Our first Article of Faith affirms our belief in the New Testament Godhead. It states simply: “We believe in God the Eternal Father, in his son Jesus Christ and in the Holy Ghost.” We reject the traditional, but extra-biblical, idea that these three persons constitute one metaphysical substance, affirming rather that they constitute one perfectly united, and mutually indwelling,8 divine community. We use the word “God” to designate the divine community as well as to designate each individual divine person. Thus our understanding of the Godhead coincides closely with what is known in contemporary Christian theology as “social trinitarianism.”9 This, we believe, is the model of the Godhead portrayed in the New Testament.
MR: Christian theologians from all the major traditions (Roman Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant) are united in their belief in monotheism (only one God in this and any other universe, existing beyond time and space). Is LDS theology monotheistic or is it polytheistic?
DP: As indicated above, Latter-day Saints, like other Christians and New Testament writers, affirm that there is a plurality of divine persons. Yet, at the same time, we witness (as our scriptures repeatedly declare) that “the Father, Son and Holy Ghost are one God.”10 Given the plurality of divine persons, how can there be but one God? In at least three ways: (1) There is only one perfectly united, mutually indwelling, divine community. We call that community “God” and there is only one such. (2) There is only one God the Father or fount of divinity.11 (3) There is only one divine nature or set of properties severally necessary and jointly sufficient for divinity.12
In his explanation of the unity of God, LDS Apostle James Talmage, wrote:
This unity is a type of completeness; the mind of any one member of the Trinity is the mind of the others; seeing as each of them does with the eye of perfection, they see and understand alike. Under any given conditions each would act in the same way, guided by the same principles of unerring justice and equity. The one-ness of the Godhead, to which the scriptures so abundantly testify, implies no mystical union of substance, nor any unnatural and therefore impossible blending of personality. Father, Son, and Holy Ghost are as distinct in their persons and individualities as are any three personages in mortality. Yet their unity of purpose and operation is such as to make their edicts one, and their will the will of God.13
MR: What is the relationship between man (specifically Adam) and God? Is God an exalted man? Is it possible for men to become God? Was God once mortal flesh like we are?
DP: We believe that God the Father is, in a literal sense, the father of the human family.14 Men and women are “begotten sons and daughters unto God.” We are his children, not mere creatures. In a 1995 official proclamation, the First Presidency and Council of Twelve Apostles of the Church declared: “All human beings–male and female–are created in the image of God. Each is a beloved spirit son or daughter of heavenly parents, and, as such, each has a divine nature and destiny…”15 Adam is a “noble and great” spirit son of God our Father. God (the Son) was once mortal flesh like we are (John 1:1-5, 14), though not exactly like we are for he was God incarnate. He is now exalted and resurrected with a body of flesh and bones (Luke 24:36-43). And when we are resurrected we will be like him (I John 3:2). Latter-day Saints thus affirm the teaching of the New Testament and the early church fathers that we, as God’s children, through the grace of Christ and the sanctifying power of the Holy Spirit, may become partakers of the divine nature (2 Peter 1:4).16
In addition, many Latter-day Saints believe that prior to our creation God (the Father) also was incarnate on an earth in much the same way God (the Son) was incarnate on our earth.17 This helps us understand why the Father, in both the Old and New Testament, is consistently portrayed as a gloriously exalted embodied person, humanlike in form.18
MR: There have been a number of discussions recently among evangelical Protestants about the nature of God’s being. Some theologians, commonly called “Open Theists,” are asserting that God grows in knowledge in response to the actions and choices of his creatures. Does the LDS doctrine of God allow for a similar view of God’s growing and changing according to time and circumstance?
DP: Latter-day Saint scriptures resonate with the openness teaching that God in his love endowed his human children with moral agency.19 Thus, we are free to choose either eternal life or eternal captivity. In endowing us with freedom, God has thus chosen to be neither all-determining nor all-controlling. He responds to our free desires, decisions, and deeds creatively, lovingly, and persuasively and works cooperatively with us in achieving his purposes. Thus, we agree with openness thinkers that God is the most moved mover.
The Book of Mormon powerfully portrays the tender and profound passibility of God the Son. Consider two examples. The first is a prophetic foretelling of our Lord’s incarnation in the flesh. Alma, an ancient American prophet, wrote (ca. 120 BC):
And he shall go forth, suffering pains and afflictions and temptations of every kind; and this that the word might be fulfilled which saith he will take upon him the pains and the sicknesses of his people. And he will take upon him death, that he may loose the bands of death which bind his people; and he will take upon him their infirmities, that his bowels may be filled with mercy, according to the flesh, that he may know according to the flesh how to succor his people according to their infirmities (Alma 7:11-12).
The second is an eyewitness account of a visit of our resurrected Lord to a gathering of ancient Americans. As his visit was drawing to a close, the Lord advised the multitude that he was leaving. But “cast[ing] his eyes round about again on the multitude, [he] beheld they were in tears, and did look steadfastly upon him as if they would ask him to tarry a little longer with them.” Discerning their desires, the Lord lingered, responding: “Behold my bowels are filled with compassion towards you.” He inquired if there were any sick among them and told them, “Bring them hither and I will heal them, for […] I see that your faith is sufficient that I should heal you.” As he healed them they “bathe[d] his feet with their tears.” Then Jesus invited them to bring their little children to him, and he prayed for them. The record continues: “no one can conceive of the joy which filled [their] souls.” Seeing that their joy was full, Jesus said, “Blessed are ye because of your faith. And now behold, my joy is full. And when he had said these words, he wept.” Then he “took their little children, one by one, and blessed them, and prayed unto the Father for them. And when he had done this he wept again.” (3 Ne. 17:1-25; emphasis added).
Our resurrected Lord planned to leave earlier, but lingered because he discerned that the people wanted him to stay. And when their joy was full, then his joy was full. Throughout the Book of Mormon narrative we see portrayed the tender and profound passibility of God the Son, who is in the express image of his Father’s person (Heb. 1:1-3). As openness thinkers teach, God does lovingly respond to the desires, decisions and deeds of his children.
But does God also, as openness theologians suggest, continue to grow or progress? Joseph Smith taught:
What did Jesus do? Why; I do the things I saw my Father do when worlds came rolling into existence. My Father worked out his kingdom with fear and trembling, and I must do the same; and when I get my kingdom, I shall present it to my Father, so that he may obtain kingdom upon kingdom, and it will exalt him in glory. He will then take a higher exaltation, and I will take his place, and thereby become exalted myself.20
Notice that this statement implies that divine persons progress. Joseph Smith did not see divine perfection as a state of static completeness, but as a dynamic life–one of unending growth and progress. God, qua God, is eternally self-surpassing in some respects.
But in what respects? Most would likely agree, as Joseph clearly taught, that God is eternally self-surpassing in glory, dominion, and kingdom. Likewise all (or nearly all) would probably agree that God is eternally self-surpassing in creativity and creative activity.
But does he grow in knowledge? On this point, the Church has no official position and faithful Latter-day Saints often disagree. Some very influential LDS thinkers, including two men who served as Church President, Brigham Young and Wilford Woodruff, have affirmed that God is eternally self-surpassing in both knowledge and power. President Young taught that “the God I serve is progressing eternally [in knowledge and power], and so are his children; they will increase to all eternity, if they are faithful,”21 and, in agreement with President Young, President Woodruff explained, “If there was a point where man in his progression could not proceed any further, the very idea would throw a gloom over every intelligent and reflecting mind. God himself is increasing and progressing in knowledge, power, and dominion, and will do so, worlds without end […]”22
Other Church leaders have taken a position more in line with that of conventional Christian theology. President Joseph Fielding Smith asserted, “Do we believe that God has all “wisdom”? If so, in that, he is absolute. If there is something he does not know, then he is not absolute in “wisdom,” and to think such a thing is absurd […].”23 Apostle Bruce R. McConkie expressed a similar sentiment, “There are those who say that God is progressing in knowledge …. This is false–utterly, totally, and completely. There is not one sliver of truth in it …. God progresses in the sense that his kingdoms increase and his dominions multiply …. God is not a student …. He has indeed graduated to the state of exaltation that consists of knowing all things.”24
(You’ll probably find this an understatement:)
In sum, faithful Latter-day Saints differ somewhat on the question of whether God continues to grow in knowledge, but they speak with one voice in affirming human freedom and God’s profound and tender passibility.
MR: Is it proper, in light of the significant differences between traditional Christian theology and the doctrines of the LDS Church, to call faithful Mormons “Christians”?
DP: Yes! Latter-day Saints believe that through modern day revelation, God has literally restored his New Testament Church and teachings (Acts 3:21) in preparation for Christ’s Second Coming. Thus, we believe that faithful members of this restored Church are quintessentially Christian.
My response is also affirmative when I attempt to answer the question without the light of modern revelation. As my responses to the preceding questions demonstrate, LDS understandings of God, in some respects, differ significantly from conventional conservative Christian theologies although some of these differences are not nearly as substantial as they are usually represented to be. However, none of these differences is relevant to the question of whether faithful Latter-day Saints are Christians. Faithful Latter-day Saints put their trust in, believe in, and worship the New Testament Godhead. They accept Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. They love him and seek to follow him and keep his commandments. By these standards, the earliest saints were known as Christians. By these same standards, Latter-day Saints are also Christians, as well as faithful members of evangelical and many other Christian Churches.
Spatial constraints allow only the briefest answers to the questions posed. For fuller explanations, I earnestly suggest you consult sources written for Latter-day Saints by Latter-day Saints. I’ve yet to see a presentation of LDS doctrine by a non-LDS writer that comes anywhere close to getting it right. My recommendations: Jesus the Christ and The Articles of Faith by LDS Apostle James Talmage. For those wanting to become acquainted with uniquely LDS scripture, I suggest you begin with The Book of Mormon. I would also be delighted to either personally field your questions or, if necessary, refer you to a specialist. You can contact me at [email protected]
(Modern Reformation interview ends)
Several readers did contact me. Some expressed appreciation for my clearing up their misunderstandings of LDS beliefs about God. Some raised more questions which occasioned some fruitful ongoing conversations. I ended up having to hire two part-time student assistants just to help me keep up with the mail.
Of course there were those who were outraged by the interview. In a letter that Modern Reformation published, one respondent strongly criticized the magazine for not providing their readers a rebuttal to my Mormon beliefs. Overall, the response was very positive. In this case I believe that the risk assumed, proved worth taking.
Well as time permits I want to look at a second piece, I’ll just be able to look at some excerpts from it. In most of my published work in non-Mormon venues, I have not explicitly stated that I was defending an LDS understanding of God, but in case there’s any doubts between you and me that’s what I’ve been doing. And no doubt that’s been clear to some readers, after all in these published pieces after my name is always Brigham Young University and I already mentioned to you what Carl Mosser said about my article “The God of Abraham, Isaac, and (William) James.” So let’s look at that article:25
The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob has often been distinguished from the god of the philosophers.26 The latter is allegedly only a human conception–a product of rational theologizing, with no explicit basis in biblical revelation. While the philosophers’ God is variously conceived, it is usually said to be, among other things, absolutely unlimited in all respects, wholly other, absolutely simple, immaterial, nonspatial, nontemporal, immutable, and impassible.27 By way of contrast, the biblical record describes the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob as “the living God”28 who created man in his “own image and likeness” (Gen. 1:26), who spoke with Moses “face to face, as a man speaketh unto his friend” (Exod. 33:11). He is the loving God who is profoundly “touched with the feeling of our infirmities” (Heb. 4:15) and salvifically involved in our individual and collective lives.
Not all philosophers have accepted the philosophers’ God. Some reject this God on strictly logical grounds. For instance, Anthony Kenny argues that the God who is the product of rational theologizing is, ironically, irrational–an incoherent concept, a logically impossible being (1979, 121-22).
One of the more articulate dissenters from the God of the classical theistic tradition is William James, the American pragmatist. For James, there was a sharp contrast between the God of the Bible and the God of orthodox theology. He drew this contrast in a letter to Henry Rankin dated 10 June 1903: “[T]he Bible itself, in both its testaments . . . seems to me by its intense naturalness and humanness, the most fatal document that one can read against the orthodox theology, in so far as the latter claims the words of the Bible to be its basis.” But James rejected the god of orthodox theology, not because he thought the concept unbiblical and not because he thought it logically incoherent,29 but because he found it devoid of significant practical meaning. In this paper, I set out by clarifying James’s criterion of pragmatic meaning, then sketch his arguments against the God of the philosophers based thereon, and, finally, show that the God who survives James’s critique seems very much like the “God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.”
While James’s fundamental ideas on pragmatic meaning are central to his philosophy, he never explicitly develops them in any systematic or sustained fashion. Rather, he leaves them largely embedded in his individual analyses of the meanings of particular philosophical claims and concepts.
So what I do in this section, and I won’t refer to it much more, is to set out in rather technical language what I understand to be James’ theory of pragmatic meaning. Maybe just the one quote from James in the middle of page 115–a little bit more. James says:
The mind [is] an essentially teleological mechanism. I mean by this that the conceiving or theorizing faculty . . . functions exclusively for the sake of ends that . . . are set by our emotional and practical subjectivity altogether. It is a transformer of the world of our impressions into a totally different world–the world of our conception; and the transformation is effected in the interests of our volitional nature, and for no other purpose whatsoever. (James 1979b, 94-95; emphasis in original)
James thus sees our cognitive activities–concept formation, belief acquisition, theory construction, and so on–as instruments molded by our desires and interests whose natural endpoint is action or conduct. Their role is to redirect us into experience better prepared to overcome obstacles to what we will. Based on these assumptions, our beliefs, theories, and concepts are pragmatically meaningful to the extent that they contribute to the achievement of our concrete or practical ends (Suckiel 1982, chaps. 2-3).30
So, skip over to p. 117, where I attempt to apply- well not to apply but to show how James applies his theory of pragmatic meaning to the question of the nature of God:
Armed with this more precise formulation of James’s criterion of pragmatic meaning, we should now be able to understand more clearly his pragmatic arguments for and against particular views of God’s nature. In some cases, James argues that a particular attribution is devoid of pragmatic meaning altogether; in other cases, he argues that it lacks significant pragmatic meaning or that it is pragmatically inferior to some alternative attribution.
So we start with the metaphysical attributes, the claim that God is absolutely simple, immutable, impassible, non-temporal, etc.
James, first of all, before he looks at that set of attributes criticizes what he calls the a priori method of theologizing. In the a priori method of theologizing one usually starts with the definition of God like St. Anselm did. For St. Anselm God was described as “that than which no greater can be conceived”–the greatest conceivable being.
And then from that formulation of what it means to be a perfect being he determines simply through deductive logic what God must be like. James finds that method unacceptable:
What is their deduction of these metaphysical attributes but a shuffling and matching of pedantic dictionary-adjectives, aloof from morals, aloof from human needs. . . . One feels that in the theologians’ hands, they are only a set of titles obtained by a mechanical manipulation of synonyms; verbality has stepped into the place of vision. . . . Instead of bread we have a stone; instead of a fish, a serpent. Did such a conglomeration of abstract terms give really the gist of our knowledge of the deity, schools of theology might indeed continue to flourish, but religion, vital religion, would have taken its flight from this world. (James 1985, 352)
With regard to the particular metaphysical attributes that one deduces by using this method James says:
Take God’s aseity, for example; or his necessariness; his immateriality; his ‘simplicity’ or superiority to the kind of inner variety and succession which we find in finite beings, his indivisibility, and lack of the inner distinctions of being and activity, substance and accident, potentiality and actuality, and the rest; his repudiation of inclusion in a genus; his actualized infinity; . . . his self-sufficiency, self-love, and absolute felicity in himself:–candidly speaking, how do such qualities as these make any definite connexion with our life? And if they severally call for no distinctive adaptations of our conduct, what vital difference can it possibly make to a man’s religion whether they be true or false?
For my own part, . . . I must frankly confess that even though these attributes were faultlessly deduced, I cannot conceive of its being of the smallest consequence to us religiously that any one of them should be true. Pray, what specific act can I perform in order to adapt myself the better to God’s simplicity? Or how does it assist me to plan my behavior, to know that his happiness is anyhow absolutely complete? . . .
So much for the metaphysical attributes of God! From the point of view of practical religion, the metaphysical monster which they offer to our worship is an absolutely worthless invention of the scholarly mind. (351-53)
Divine personality. On the basis of his criterion of pragmatic meaning, James concludes that the belief that God is nonpersonal is meaningless while the belief that he is personal is pragmatically warranted. Considering the former point, James charges that “the absolute” of monistic idealism (like the god of scholastic theism) is also “a metaphysical monster” in that “it is neither intelligence nor will, neither a self nor a collection of selves, neither truthful, good nor beautiful. . . . [It] neither acts nor suffers, nor loves nor hates; it has no needs, desires, or aspirations, no failures or successes, friends or enemies, victories or defeats” (James 1977, 26-27).31 In short, the absolute is not a person and, lacking personality, seemingly calls for no vital human responses.
So James concludes that a personal being has pragmatic meaning in the idea that God is not personal does not. Just skipping over to the conclusion of that section:
The challenges of the human being’s moral and spiritual life require help and guidance, which only a divine person and co-worker can provide. Understanding God to be a personal “thou” who invites our participation in bringing about his purposes and who hears and responds to our calls for help with our own purposes is rich in both predictive import and practical consequences.32 We expect to receive such help and guidance, and the expectation gives hope, overcomes fear, and influences conduct.33
Moral and Power Predicates. James suggests that the moral and power predicates stand on a strong footing pragmatically speaking:
they positively determine fear and hope and expectation, and are foundations for the saintly life. It needs but a glance at them to show how great is their significance. God’s holiness, for example: being holy, God can will nothing but the good. Being omnipotent, he can secure its triumph. Being omniscient, he can see us in the dark. Being just, he can punish us for what he sees. Being loving, he can pardon too. Being unalterable, we can count on him securely. These qualities enter into connexion with our life. (1985, 353)
Divine Immanence. Though James finds eschatological predictive–and by that predictive import, experiential import with regard to a life after death.
Though James finds eschatological predictive import sufficient for pragmatic meaning, he also believes it is pragmatically important that God be actively involved in our present lives–he must make a difference, not only in eternity, but in our day-to-day existence (1985, 411).34 In The Varieties of Religious Experience, James divides supernaturalists into two camps: “refined” supernaturalists (including transcendental idealists and all others), who “bar out ideal identities from interfering causally in the course of phenomenal events” (409), and “crass” or “piecemeal” supernaturalists (with whom James personally identifies35), who “admit miracles and providential leading, and find no intellectual difficulty in mixing the ideal and the real worlds together by interpolating influences from the ideal region among the forces that causally determine the real worlds details” (409-10). In no sphere is that influence more evident, James says, than in the phenomenon of prayerful communion, which shows that God produces “immediate effects within the natural world to which the rest of our experience belongs. . . . The appearance is that in this phenomenon something ideal . . . actually exerts an influence, raises our centre of personal energy, and produces regenerative effects unattainable in other ways” (411-12).36 By this standard of pragmatic efficacy, the Absolute of transcendental idealism again largely fails to measure up:
An entire world is the smallest unit with which the Absolute can work, whereas to our finite minds, work for the better ought to be done within this world, setting in at single points. Our difficulties and our ideals are all piecemeal affairs, but the Absolute can do no piecework for us. . . . It is strange, I have heard a friend to say, to see this blind corner into which Christian thought has worked itself at last, with its God who can raise no particular weight whatever, who can help us with no private burden, and who is on the side of our enemies as much as he is on our own. Odd evolution from the God of David’s psalms! (410, n. 1)
In contrast to the deity who can lift no particular burden, James pictures God and human beings as collaborators in the vast task of building a moral universe. And in this creative and redemptive work, James says, God must not be above “dirtying His own hands”: “The prince of darkness may be a gentlemen, as we are told he is, but whatever the God of earth and heaven is, he can surely be no gentleman. His menial services are needed in the sweat and dirt of our daily human trials, even more than his dignity is needed in the empyrean” (1975, 40).
So James goes on and suggests that if we think of God and human beings as socially related, as God responding to what we do and fail to do we have a much more pragmatically valuable understanding of God than if we think that any interaction between God and man is purely unilateral rather than reciprocal. James again suggests that the idea that God is timeless is pragmatically without value. James notes:
“all the categories of my sympathy are knit up . . . with things that have a history. . . . I have neither eyes nor ears nor heart nor mind for anything of an opposite description, and the stagnant felicity of the absolute’s own perfection moves me as little as I move it” (1977, 27).
Divine Finitude. And James again argues that a God who is not absolutely unlimited–and you’ll have to read to get clear about what he means by that–is pragmatically more valuable than a God who is absolutely unlimited. Maybe just a passage from there and we’ll be done:
Further, James holds that belief in a finite God is pragmatically richer than belief in an absolutely unlimited God in that it provides greater virility and impetus to our moral endeavors.37 Any world other than a pluralistic one with a finite God takes away all life’s real achievements as well as its losses. The finite God in a pluralistic universe is, on that account, more approachable and more of a real leader and inspirer.38 James imagines God, before the creation, putting forth to us the following proposal:
I am going to make a world not certain to be saved, a world the perfection of which shall be conditional merely, the condition being that each several agent does its own “level best.” I offer you the chance of taking part in such a world. Its safety, you see, is unwarranted. It is a real adventure, with real danger, yet it may win through. It is a social scheme of co-operative work genuinely to be done. Will you join the procession? Will you trust yourself and trust the other agents enough to face the risk? (1975, 139)
Yes God, I’ll take my time on earth!
In the next section of the paper, I try to show that the God that James finds pragmatically meaningful is the God of the Bible. And I’ll just close with a final statement from James:
Though nothing like a full case has or could be made here, I believe enough evidence has been presented to warrant our seriously considering the claim that the God of William James bears significant resemblance to the God of the Bible. James, of course, was not unaware of this. He made it clear that, in rejecting the God of the philosophers, he was not thereby rejecting the God of the Bible:
I must parenthetically ask you to distinguish the notion of the absolute carefully from that of another object with which it is liable to become heedlessly entangled. That other object is the ‘God’ of common people in their religion. . . . The God of our popular Christianity is but one member of a pluralistic system. He and we stand outside of each other, just as the devil, the saints and the angels stand outside of both of us. I can hardly conceive of anything more different from the absolute than the God, say, of David or of Isaiah. That God is an essentially finite being in the cosmos, not with the cosmos in him. . . . If it should prove probable that the absolute does not exist, it will not follow in the slightest degree that a God like that of David, Isaiah, or Jesus may not exist, or may not be the most important existence in the universe for us to acknowledge. (1977, 54) 39
Questions and Answers
Q1: What does “mutually indwelling” mean?
Well I use that term, and it is used in some technical theological discourse, to refer to whatever is meant in the Savior’s language in John 17:3. Where he talks about his being in the Father, the Father being in him and the possibility of our becoming one in them and so on. There’s different ways of spelling that out more fully and more explicitly but as far as I’m concerned when I use that word I’m saying no more than Jesus is saying in John 17:3.
Q2: Does James write anything about the Latter-day Saints?
Not very much! In the The Varieties of Religious Experience, he makes a brief reference to the religious experience within Mormonism and quotes a letter from a prominent member of the Church about our belief in current revelation, that it comes through the living the prophet as well as having come in the past. He refers to the Urim and Thummim as one mode of receiving revelation. But he hasn’t written very much.
A few years ago, Jed Woodworth who worked for BYU Studies took a trip to the Harvard Library–there’s a William James collection there–to see if he could find books on LDS theology in that William James collection and see any evidence of things underlined or marginal notes and so on because the correspondence James mentions in The Varieties of Religious Experience sent(?) a lot of books on LDS history and doctrine (inaudible) but his church turned up nothing so at this point we don’t know.
Q3: Is it or is it not Mormon doctrine that God the Father was incarnate on an earth? I noticed that you hedged a response in the Modern Reformation article. In a recent interview President Hinckley does not appear to actively assert this as official Church doctrine.
My answer to that question is that it seems rather clear that Joseph Smith taught it in the King Follett discourse. The King Follett discourse is not canon and I would suggest that in an official narrow sense, the doctrine should be confined to the standard works and official statements of the First Presidency and so that’s why in my response to Modern Reformation I said many Latter-day Saints believe that God the Father was incarnate on an earth much the same way that Christ was incarnate on our earth.
Personally I believe that God the Father was so incarnate, but of course that’s not official Church doctrine.
Q4: If open theism is correct how can the Bible say that God Jesus knows all things, if God is continually growing in knowledge then he can only state that he knows more today than yesterday, that he can’t claim to know all things. Could you interact with this?
Openness theologians have interacted with that question at length. You may want to look at The Openness of God edited by John Sanders, but it’s a book studying out openness beliefs from five different leaders of that movement. A better book–a longer book–is The God Who Risks by John Sanders; he devotes about 120 pages to an examination of biblical passages such as the passage “God knows all things” as well as other passages that are relevant on one side or the other side of the question and concludes that the Bible read as a whole rather than in terms of individual prooftexts seems to suggest that God grows in knowledge eternally.
So, if you want a careful examination of biblical passages with regard to that issue, read The God Who Risks by John Sanders. Or another book that he published more recently Does God Have a Future?
Q5: (inaudible) label henotheism and why?
I would not be disposed to describe our view as a henotheism. I do believe in the doctrine of Theosis; I believe that human beings can become divine beings and one definition of henotheism would suggest that divinity consists of a supreme being and a community of lesser beings. I feel uncomfortable with that particular label. Maybe my discomfort is more rhetorical than doctrinal but Talmage in his exposition of the first Article of Faith as I’ve shown, actually uses the traditional term Trinity to describe his understanding of the Mormon view of God.
I haven’t begun to flesh out the difficulties, you know that the question poses, but I’m much more comfortable thinking of our view as a Trinitarian point of view.
The God of Abraham, Isaac, and (William) James–Works Cited
Aiken, Alfred. 1955. That Which Is. Evansville: Hillier P.
Barnard, G. William. 1997. Exploring Unseen Worlds: William James and the Philosophy of Mysticism. New York: State U of New York P.
Bradford, Miles Gerald. 1977. “Practical Theism and Pantheism: Two Approaches to God in the Thought of William James.” Ph.D. Diss. U of California, Santa Barbara.
Brennan, Bernard. 1968. William James. New York: Twayne.
Buber, Martin. 1958. Martin Buber: To Hallow This Life. Ed. Jacob Trapp. New York: Harper & Brothers.
Flournoy, Theodore.  1969. The Philosophy of William James. Freeport, NY: Books for Libraries P.
Fretheim, Terence. 1994. “The Book of Genesis.” In vol. 1 of The New Interpreter’s Bible. Nashville: Abingdon P.
Freud, Sigmund. 1961. The Future of an Illusion. Trans. James Strachey. New York: W. W. Norton.
Gale, Richard M. 1991. On the Nature and Existence of God. New York: Cambridge UP.
Gavin, William Joseph. 1992. William James and the Reinstatement of the Vague. Philadelphia: Temple UP.
Graham, George P. 1992. William James and the Affirmation of God. New York: Peter Lang.
Halevi, Jehuda. 1965. Three Jewish Philosophers. Ed. Isaak Heinemann. New York: Harper & Row.
Heschel, Abraham. 1962. The Prophets. New York: Harper & Row.
Holy Bible. King James Version. Salt Lake City, UT: Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1979.
Hunt, John. 1884. Pantheism and Christianity. New York: Kennikat P.
James, William. 1882. Letter to Thomas Davidson. 8 January 1882. In vol. 5 of The Correspondence of William James, ed. Ignas Skrupskelis and Elizabeth M. Berkeley, 195. Charlottesville: UP of Virginia.
——. l903. Letter to Henry Rankin. 10 June l903. In vol. 2 of The Letters of William James, 196. See James 1920.
——. 1907. Letter to Charles Strong. 9 April 1907. In vol. 2 of The Letters of William James, 269. See James 1920.
——. 1920. The Letters of William James. Vol. 2. Ed. Henry James. Boston: Atlantic Monthly P.
——. 1975. Pragmatism. Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP.
——. 1977. A Pluralistic Universe. Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP.
——. 1978. “The Essence of Humanism.” In Essays in Radical Empiricism, 97-104. Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP.
——. 1979a. “The Dilemma of Determinism.” In The Will to Believe and Other Essays in Popular Philosophy, 114-40. See James 1979c.
——. 1979b. “Reflex Action and Theism.” In The Will to Believe and Other Essays in Popular Philosophy, 90-113. See James 1979c.
——. 1979c. The Will to Believe and Other Essays in Popular Philosophy. Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP.
——. 1982. “Human Immortality.” In Essays in Religion and Morality, 75-101. Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP.
——. 1985. The Varieties of Religious Experience. Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP.
——. 1988. Manuscript Essays and Notes. Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP.
Keil, C. F., and F. Delitzsch. 1983. Commentary on the Old Testament. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans.
Kenny, Anthony. 1979. The God of the Philosophers. New York: Oxford UP.
Lamberth, David C. 1997. “Interpreting the Universe after a Social Analogy: Intimacy, Panpsychism, and a Finite God in a Pluralistic Universe.” In The Cambridge Companion to William James, ed. Ruth Ann Putnam, 237-59. Cambridge: Cambridge UP.
Levenson, Jon. 1988. Creation and the Persistence of Evil. San Francisco: Harper & Row.
Levinson, H. S. 1978. Science, Metaphysics, and the Chance of Salvation. Missoula, MT: Scholars P.
——. 1981. The Religious Investigations of William James. Chapel Hill, NC: U of North Carolina P.
Lovejoy, A. O. 1963. “The Thirteen Pragmatisms.” In The Thirteen Pragmatisms and Other Essays, 3-10. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins UP.
Mays, James L., ed. 1988. Harper’s Bible Commentary. San Francisco: Harper & Row.
O’Connell, Marvin R. 1987. Blaise Pascal: Reasons of the Heart. Cambridge: Eerdmans.
Padgett, Alan G. 1992. God, Eternity and the Nature of Time. New York, NY: St. Martin’s P.
Perry, Ralph Barton. 1935. The Thought and Character of William James. 2 vols. Rpt. Westport, CT: Greenwood P, 1974.
Pike, Nelson. 1970. God and Timelessness. New York: Schocken Books.
Pinnock, Clark H. 1994. “Systematic Theology.” In The Openness of God, 101-25. See Pinnock et al. 1994.
Pinnock, Clark, Richard Price, John Sanders, William Hasker, and David Basinger. 1994. The Openness of God: A Biblical Challenge to the Traditional Understanding of God. Downer’s Grove, IL: Intervarsity P.
Reichenbach, Bruce. 1986. “God Limits His Power.” In Predestination and Free Will: Four Views of Divine Sovereignty and Human Freedom, ed. David Basinger and Randall Basinger, 101-24. Downer’s Grove, IL: Intervarsity P.
Rice, Richard. 1994. “Biblical Support for a New Perspective.” In The Openness of God, 11-58. See Pinnock et al. 1994.
Samuelson, Norbert. 1972. “That the God of the Philosophers is not the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.” Harvard Theological Review 65.1: 2-27.
Seigfreid, Charlene Haddock. 1990. William James’s Radical Reconstruction of Philosophy. Albany, NY: State U of New York P.
Simon, Linda. 1998. Genuine Reality: A Life of William James. New York: Harcourt Brace.
Speiser, E. A. 1964. Genesis: The Anchor Bible Commentary. Garden City: Doubleday.
Suckiel, Ellen Kappy. 1982. The Pragmatic Philosophy of William James. Notre Dame, IN: U of Notre Dame P.
Vanden Burgt, Robert J. 1981. The Religious Philosophy of William James. Chicago: Nelson-Hall.
Vawter, B. 1969. “Genesis.” In A New Catholic Commentary on Holy Scripture, 166-205. London: Thomas Nelson & Sons.
Wolterstorff, Nicholas. 1975. “God Everlasting.” In God and the Good, ed. Clifton J. Orlebeke and Lewis B. Smedes, 181-203. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans.
1 Faith and Philosophy 6 (Jan. 1989): 76-87.
2 Harvard Theological Review 83 (1990): 105-116.
3 Harvard Theological Review 95:1 (2002) 97-118.
4 “The Doctrine of Divine Embodiment: Restoration, Judeo-Christian, and Philosophical Perspectives”, BYU Studies, Vol. 35 (1995), Number 3-1996.
5 “Are Mormons Trinitarian? An Interview with David Paulsen”, Modern Reformation, (November/December 2003).
6 Journal of Speculative Philosophy 13/2 (1999): 114-146.
7 Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith. Ed. Joseph Fielding Smith (Salt Lake City, Utah: Deseret Book Company, 1976), p 324.
8 Blake Ostler writes, “The Father, Son, and Spirit are primordially united-a claim made in the Gospel of John by use of the Greek words en and hen, i.e., in and one. The Father is said to be “in” the Son and the Son “in” the Father, and the Spirit is “in” them both and they “in” the Spirit. Because of this “in-ness,” or one-ness and loving unity, they act as one God. FARMS Review of Books, vol. 8, no. 2 (1996).
9 Among the many influential Christian thinkers who have also opted for a social model of the Godhead are Cornelius Plantinga (see his “Social Trinity and Tritheism” in Trinity, Incarnation, and Atonement: Philosophical and Theological Essays, eds. R.J. Feenstra and C. Plantinga (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1989), pp.21-47); Jurgen Moltmann (see his The Trinity and The Kingdom of God: The Doctrine of God (London: SCM Press Ltd, 1981); and Leonardo Boff (see Trinity and Society, trans., Paul Burns (Maryknoll, New York: Orbis Books, 1988); Clark Pinnock (see his Most Moved Mover: A Theology of God’s Openness, Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 2001). Nota: See also Br. Paulsen’s reply to “Q1: What does mutually indwelling mean?” at the end of this paper.
10 2 Nephi 31:21; Alma 11:44; 3 Nephi 11:36; D&C 20:28.
11 1 Corinthians 8:6: “But to us there is but one God, the Father, of whom are all things, and we in him; and one Lord Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we by him.
12 See Cornelius Plantinga, supra. “Social Trinity and Tritheism” for a fuller explanation of how a social model of the trinity remains properly “monotheistic.” See B.H. Robert’s The Seventy’s Course in Theology (Dallas: L.K. Taylor Publishing Company, 1976), 106. He suggests that there is only “one God-nature.”
13 James Talmage, A Study of the Articles of Faith (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1988), 37.
14 James Talmage, A Study of the Articles of Faith, 421.
15 “The Family: A Proclamation to the World,” Ensign, November 1995, 102.
16 See Father Jordan Vajda’s Partarkers of the Divine Nature: A Comparative Analysis of Patristic and Mormon Doctrines of Divinization (Provo, Utah: Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies, 2002).
17 See Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1976), 342-362.
18 See David Paulsen’s articles: “Augustine and the Corporeality of God,” Harvard Theological Review 95:1 (2002) 97-118; “Early Christian Belief in a Corporeal Deity: Origen and Augustine as Reluctant Witnesses,” Harvard Theological Review 83:2 (1990) 105-16. Also see, Kim Paffenroth, “Paulsen on Augustine: An Incorporeal or Nonanthropomorphic God?” Harvard Theological Review 86:2 (1993) 233-234; and Paulsen’s, “Reply to Kim Paffenroth’s Comments,” Harvard Theological Review 86:2 (1993) 235-239.
19 2 Nephi 2:27; Mosiah 2:21; D&C 37:4; 58:28; 98:8; Moses 7:32.
20 Teachings, 347-348.
21 Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses, 11:285.
22 Wilford Woodruff, Journal of Discourses, 6:120.
23 Joseph Fielding Smith, Doctrines of Salvation, compiled by Bruce R. McConkie (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1954-1956), 1:6-7.
24 Bruce R. McConkie, “The Seven Deadly Heresies,” 1980 Devotional Speeches of the Year, (Provo, Utah: Brigham Young University Press, 1981), 75.
25 http://muse.jhu.edu/demo/journal_of_speculative_philosophy/v013/13.2paulsen.html. Nota: The footnote numbers above do not match the footnote numbers in the original article. See also “Works Cited” at the end of the paper.
26 Among the prominent thinkers who have drawn this distinction are Blaise Pascal, Martin Buber, and Jehuda Halevi. Pascal believed in a personal God “who has chosen to dwell within the history of human kind.” During his spiritual conversion experience, Pascal penned these words: “From about half-past ten in the evening until about half-past twelve. Fire. God of Abraham, God of Isaac, God of Jacob. Not of the philosophers and intellectuals. The God of Jesus Christ” (O’Connell 1987, 96-99). Halevi argued that philosophy’s practice of inference has led to false notions of God, which includes the belief that “God neither benefits nor injures, nor knows anything of our prayers or offerings, our obedience or disobedience” (1965, 113-14). In the words of Buber, “[T]he man who says, ‘I love in God the father of man,’ has essentially already renounced the God of the philosophers in his innermost heart” (1958, 10). For a rigorous defense of the claim that these two God-descriptions cannot refer to the same being, see Samuelson (1972). See also Kenny (1979, esp. chap. 10, “The God of Reason and the God of Faith”).
27 I use the definite description “the god of the philosophers” to refer to God-concepts that are significantly constituted by attributes derived through rational theologizing without explicit basis in biblical revelation, including, most notably, those attributes enumerated in the text corresponding to this note. So understood, the description encompasses both the God of scholastic theism and the God of nineteenth-century transcendental idealism–the two God-concepts that bear the brunt of James’s pragmatic critique. There are, of course, significant differences between the various gods denominated by my description. For instance, the God of Thomas Aquinas is a person while the God of F.H. Bradley is not.
28 To mention just a few such references: Josh. 3:10, I Sam. 17:26, Jer. 10:10, Hos. 1:l0, Acts l4:15, I Thess. 1:9.
29 Of course, for James logical consistency was a necessary, but not a sufficient, condition for philosophical adequacy. He recognized the limits of logic and affirmed that, after one has pushed reason as far as one can, there is still something left over that can only be “pointed at” or “acted on” (Gavin 1992, 44).
30 Levinson unpacks this idea in terms of “interest:” “As James sees it, there simply is no sort of knowledge or activity (or, obviously, expectation or hope) that is disinterested or indifferent. Every specifiable aspect of human behavior attends to some need, responds to some problematic situation, is committed to some tendency or other: in sum, holds some interest. Indeed, as I have indicated, the chance of salvation for James is the chance that our outstanding problems will be solved, and the chance that our outstanding problems will be solved is the chance that our interests will be adequately served” (1978, 10-11).
31 It should be here acknowledged that in A Pluralistic Universe (1977), James does not critique the Absolute of nineteenth-century transcendental idealism nor the God of scholastic theism explicitly in terms of the criterion of pragmatic meaning. Rather, he introduces “intimacy” and “foreignness” as alternative categories for determining philosophical and religious adequacy. However, the two categories seem to overlap significantly (if they are not completely interchangeable), since both are grounded in lived experience and its experiential consequences. For simplicity’s sake, I use James’s criterion of pragmatic meaning as my critical framework throughout this piece. For an excellent interpretative analysis of “intimacy” and “foreignness” as Jamesian categories for philosophical evaluation, see Lamberth (1997).
32 These predictive and enusing practical consequences, which thus satisfy the fourth and fifth criteria of pragmatic meaning are summed up well by George Graham: “[God] is able to have an influence upon us and, in order to achieve our destiny, we have to open ourselves to his influence. God is personal, and he is able to make demands upon us. Our own being is fulfilled or not depending on whether or not we are responsive to God’s demands. The cognitive content of James’s God in his reconciling hypothesis is summed up in a proposition: God is real since he produces real effects” (1992, 211; see also James 1985, 407).
33 The belief that God is a person and thus capable of entering into a personal relationship with us not only is pragmatically meaningful according to James, but also serves to provide pragmatic warrant for faith, as James argues in “The Will to Believe”: “Now to most of us religion comes in a still farther way that makes a veto on our active faith even more illogical. The more perfect and more eternal aspect of the universe is represented in our religions as having a personal form. The universe is no longer a mere It to us, but a Thou, if we are religious; and any relation that may be possible from person to person might be possible here. . . .We feel, too, as if the appeal of religion to us were made to our own active good-will, as if the appeal of religion to us might be forever withheld from us unless we met the hypothesis half-way. To take a trivial illustration: just as a man who in a company of gentlemen made no advances, asked a warrant for every concession, and believed no one’s word without proof, would cut himself off by such churlishness from all the social rewards that a more trusting spirit would earn-so here, one who should shut himself up in snarling logicality and try to make the gods extort his recognition willy-nilly, or not get it all, might cut himself off forever from his only opportunity of making the gods’ acquaintance” (1979c, 31).
34 Indeed, that “no concrete particular of experience should alter its complexion in consequence of a God being there” James finds incredible, not merely on pragmatic grounds, but on instinctual and logical grounds as well.
35 James says that “notwithstanding my own inability to accept either popular Christianity or scholastic theism, I suppose that my belief that in communion with the Ideal new force comes into the world, and new departures are made here below, subjects me to being classed among the supernaturalists of the piecemeal or crasser type” (1985, 410).
36 Though James apparently thinks otherwise, he acknowledges that “it may well prove that the sphere of influence in prayer is subjective exclusively, and that what is immediately changed is only the mind of the praying person. But however our opinion of prayer’s effects may come to be limited by criticism, religion . . . must stand or fall by the persuasion that effects of some sort genuinely do occur” (1985, 367).
37 Vanden Burgt insightfully states, “The same concerns that led James to affirm the existence of God also shape his conception of God. The primary purpose that the existence of God serves in his philosophy is as a support for the strenuous mood. God is a moral stimulant. If this is why God is needed, then His nature must be so conceived as to allow man a morally stimulating role in the world. James opposes those conceptions of God which he feels deprive man of this role” (1981, 87). James also believed that God could not be wholly other than man because “God must need us just as we need him in our mutual work. The result is a universe of maximum moral stimulation” (97). Compare Brennan, who has argued that “from a ‘purely logical’ point of view, theism and atheism are equally admissible; but judged from other points of view-the moral, the spiritual, and the metaphysical-theism is the incomparably superior belief and leads to the better life for man” (1968, 116).
38 Compare Barnard (1997, 251-52): “For James, this finite God offers numerous theo-metaphysical and ethical advantages. First, the finite God, as a theological construct, reflects the moral intuitions of many individuals that God is willing and able to assist in humanity’s moral struggles, but not to such an extent that human ethical responsibility is undercut. Second, the finite God offers a theological understanding of the divine that is more concrete, and more personal, than the abstract, impersonal Absolute of nineteenth-century philosophical idealism. James’s finite God is a loving, interactive God, a God who is related to us, who cares about us, who is intimately linked with us. Third, because the theological understanding of the finite God stresses the loving, personal nature of the divine, it maintains a type of continuity with other theistic speculations, even if it breaks with those theological speculations that emphasize God’s complete ontological otherness. James’s finite God may be distinct from other individual beings, but is not ontologically separate from them. Fourth, and perhaps most importantly, the finite God , who is understood to be ‘finite, either in power or knowledge, or in both at once,’ is a bold attempt to solve the logical dilemma that plagues classical theism: how to resolve the fact that God is both all-powerful and all-good, and yet still permits evil to exist.”
39 Theodore Flournoy, a colleague of James, may have been among the first to recognize that, while William James’s conception of God differs significantly from that of orthodox Christian theology, it doesn’t follow that it therefore departs from the God of the Bible: “[A]lthough James’s philosophical ideas are certainly far removed from those of ordinary theologians, they are in at least as good, and are often in much better accord with the spirit of the Scriptures. Was not Christ in a sense the first pragmatist when he declared that ‘by their fruits ye shall know them,’ and that the truth of his doctrine was to be judged by putting it in practice? Did he ever treat the problem of evil other than pluralistically; quite as James treats it? Surely Christ did not teach that God is an ‘Absolute’ that includes and condones all the evils and miseries of this world, but rather that He is the Father, the great Ally who desires our welfare and who demands only our co-operation in resisting and casting out all evil. . . . I would point out once more that the great idea which dominates James’s religious moralism,–that human effort and divine power must collaborate for the salvation of the world,-is after all no more than a development of the thought of the apostle: ‘we are laborers together with God'” (1969, 164-65).