Friday, January 1, 2016

The Question of Natural Religion and Syncretism Part II

A subtitle to this post could be "divine creative intermediaries."

The One True God of the Universe is a creator. But that doesn't mean He is the only creator. I remember, at Princeton, listening to one of the most distinguished natural law scholars discussing the concept of Imago Dei. Among other things he noted the fact that humans are creative creatures reflects God's image as a creator.

Likewise with the word "divine." That word is used quite a bit in sacred scripture and one reading could mean "God." But that isn't the only necessary meaning. Angels also have some kind of divine nature, even though they are not God. Arians believe Jesus is "divine," but also created by and subordinate to God the Father, The One True God. And though Socinians don't believe Jesus is divine in His nature, they believe Him on a divine mission. Hence, they too might describe Him as divine in that sense.

George Washington, who devoutly believed in Providence gives, as I read the record, no evidence he believed Jesus 2nd Person in the Trinity and put his faith in Jesus' finished work on the cross. Only two times in Washington's voluminous recorded words Jesus is ever mentioned by name or example. And they were in public addresses, written by others, though signed in Washington's hand. In the 1783 Circular to the States, one of the two, Washington characterizes Jesus as "the Divine Author of our blessed Religion" without mentioning His name.

So, as noted above, Arians believe Jesus is divine, but not fully God, rather the Son, created by and subordinate to the Father. But the Son is still the first born of creation, higher than the highest archangel. Almost like a super-angelic being. That begs the question on the "divine" nature of God v. the "divine" nature of angels. The word "substance" enters the picture in the metaphysical discourse. I concede I don't fully understand the details (where we get into angels dancing on the head of a pin territory). But I've seen some Arian arguments that suggest Jesus, though created and subordinate to the Father still has a divine nature that is of substance the same as or more similar to that of The One True God, than that of the angels.

The British Whig Arian James Burgh, who greatly influenced America's Founders, stressed Jesus as a creator, indeed, arguably the creator of this world. As he wrote in Crito, Volume I:
The Unitarians can conceive of the Messiah's having been ... the maker of this world, and likewise of the angelic orders, both those who have stood and who have fallen.

But neither do all unitarians understand in the same manner the Messiah's making worlds and their inhabitants.  It is certain, that all existence is derived from the one Supreme, to whom existence is natural, and necessary, himself the Fountain of being.  Therefore, whenever the power of making, or creating is ascribed to any subordinate being, it is manifest, the meaning cannot be, the giving of existence.
As I understand, Burgh argues the Supreme causes all that exists to exist. To use the analogy to clay, God would be the cause of the clay. But Christ was given a great deal of authority to exercise his creative power shaping that clay into finished works.

If Jesus is not fully God, a controversy ensues as to whether He ought to be worshipped. Though they differ, the consensus among them is yes, Jesus is entitled to worship as a divine intermediary to the Father.

Ben Franklin likewise for a brief time in his life flirted with the notion of worshipping a more personal divine intermediary.  As he wrote in 1728:
I believe there is one Supreme most perfect Being, Author and Father of the Gods themselves.

For I believe that Man is not the most perfect Being but One, rather that as there are many Degrees of Beings his Inferiors, so there are many Degrees of Beings superior to him.

...  I imagine it great Vanity in me to suppose, that the Supremely Perfect, does in the least regard such an inconsiderable Nothing as Man. ... I cannot conceive otherwise, than that He, the Infinite Father, expects or requires no Worship or Praise from us, but that he is even INFINITELY ABOVE IT.

But since there is in all Men something like a natural Principle which enclines them to DEVOTION or the Worship of some unseen Power;


Therefore I think it seems required of me, and my Duty, as a Man, to pay Divine Regards to SOMETHING.

I CONCEIVE then, that the INFINITE has created many Beings or Gods, vastly superior to Man, who can better conceive his Perfections than we, and return him a more rational and glorious Praise. As among Men, the Praise of the Ignorant or of Children, is not regarded by the ingenious Painter or Architect, who is rather honour'd and pleas'd with the Approbation of Wise men and Artists.


Howbeit, I conceive that each of these is exceeding wise, and good, and very powerful; and that Each has made for himself, one glorious Sun, attended with a beautiful and admirable System of Planets.

It is that particular wise and good God, who is the Author and Owner of our System, that I propose for the Object of my Praise and Adoration.
I am not the first to observe that these sentiments are "proto-Mormon."  We see henotheism. And Franklin's personal created God could be Jehovah. Mormonism, like Arianism, is not orthodox. But both arguably believe the God of Abraham and His Son Jesus are divine and should be worshipped.


Tom Van Dyke said...

Franklin was 22 when he wrote that. I shudder to think what nonsense I must have been spouting at that age and hereby disavow it.

Brad Hart said...

To be honest, I liked what Benjamin Franklin wrote. In some respects it resonates with the Mormon in me.