On the Existence of God: On John Haught’s What is God

Published: 2021-07-30 02:10:06
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Category: Experience, Metaphysics, Truth, Does God Exist, Existence of God

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John Haught’s What is God aims to provide “a simple ‘mystagogy’… an ‘introduction to mystery’ (116). The importance of mystery to Haught’s work may be traced to his main assumption that the existence of God is evident in the existence of “a cognitive ‘feeling’ of inexhaustibility” that an individual experiences in relation to the experience of depth, future, freedom, beauty, and truth (115).
He states, “The notion of mystery is indispensable to our discourse about the divine…To say that God is ultimately mystery is the final word in any proper thinking about the divine…in order to accentuate the utter inadequacy of any thoughts we may formulate about God” (Haught 115). Haught argues that within a world controlled by technological advancements, man continuously opts to contain the mysterious aspects of life (117).
In order to prevent the continuous repression of the mysterious aspects of life, Haught argues that it is necessary to consider certain experiences which when examined can only be understood within the context of the assumption that God exists. These experiences are those of depth, future, beauty, and truth. In line with this, what follows is an analysis of John Haught’s argument regarding the existence of God as it is presented in his book What is God. Initially, it is interesting to note that the book addresses the question “What is God? as opposed to “Who is God? ”. By addressing the aspect of deity in a manner that cannot be represented by personal imagery, the succeeding chapters of the book discusses the main problem of God’s absence. This problem however is addressed in a similar manner within each chapter as Haught specifies the implications of this absence to the religious life of this period. The different implications of the absence of God in the various aspects of human life are further discussed within the text through five themes for thinking about God.



These themes refer to depth, future, freedom, beauty, and truth which function in the imagination as the ‘persuasion’ or ‘lure’ for the acceptance of the existence of a mysterious and divine being; that being God. Within each theme, Haught places emphasis that these themes and concepts imply a pattern of letting go in order to be able to freely step into the terrain where an individual is truly addressed by the Other. Within the context of the theme of depth, for example, Haught adheres to Paul Tillich’s discussion regarding the ‘the depth of existence’.
Within the aforementioned work, Tillich argues that there are various depths to human existence. For Tillich, although the aspects of human existence differ by the degree to which an individual is subsumed within a particular experience, the manner in which one experiences and seeks the experience of the different aspects of experience in different depths ensures that there exists a fundamental aspect of existence which each individual opts for due to its ability to provide meaning to an individual’s life.
Haught quotes Tillich, who states, The name of this infinite and inexhaustible depth…is God. The depth is what the word God means…For you cannot think or say: Life has no depth! Life itself is shallow. Being itself is surface only. If you could say this in complete seriousness, you would not be an atheist; but otherwise you are not. He who knows depth knows about God. (14-15)
Tillich, within this context, argues that to assume that existence has various meanings and to assume that existence has no meaning both involves the assumption of the depth of existence since even if an individual merely affirms that ‘being’ is surface only, that individual also assumes that there is an aspect of existence which involves the lack of being and this lack of being in itself may be considered as an aspect of the depth of existence. In line with this, Haught argues that the experience of depth ensures the existence of God since God refers to the aspect of existence which all individual’s experience.
He states, “‘God’ is a name for the dimension of depth that all of us experience to one degree or another, even if only in the mode of flight from it” (Haught 15). Haught further argues that depth is an example of one of the experiences in “the horizon of our experiences” that one recognizes the existence of God (Haught 15). Haught’s emphasis on the metaphor of the ‘horizon’ in which one experiences God repeats itself in his discussion of the other experiences which ensures the existence of God such as the future, freedom, and beauty.
Haught argues that in the same manner that to live in depth involves the acceptance of the experience of the different degrees of understanding one’s life, to live in future also requires living with the instability and messiness of historical existence and with the changing images of God which these historical events imply (Haught 28). In the same manner, to live in freedom involves living courageously in the face of non-being wherein non-being refers to the face which absolute freedom presents upon the individual as it invites us to embrace it (Haught 49).
To live in beauty, on the other hand, involves the ability to endure the breakdown of one’s own restrictive narrative in favour of the wider novelty and contrast of the divine narrative presented through the various images relayed by nature (Haught 71). Finally, to live in truth also involves moving beyond the security of the limited approval of others as one trusts in the unconditional acceptance which alone makes truthful living possible (Haught 111).
It is important to note at this point that as Haught’s explanation for the existence of God places emphasis on the identifiable and universal aspects of human experience which may imply the existence of God, Haught’s method follows a deductive method which involves the assuming that since certain aspects of human experience remain universally mysterious to man, these experiences may be attributed to the existence of a divine being. This is in accordance to his conception of God which is not based on a gender-specific image since it allows his conception of God to explore both the theistic and non-theistic arguments for God’s existence.
In the final part of the book, Haught concludes that the aforementioned experiences affirm the existence of God as a ‘mystery’ since if God is experiences as an ultimate mystery human experience of God is ensured in the different depths of reality. This however does not necessarily imply that to speak of God as a mystery involves speaking of God as an entity which is not possible for the human mind to recognize or have knowledge of. According to Haught, this merely implies that God exists as an entity which allows the human experience of boundlessness.
He states, It is our fundamental openness to mystery that sets us apart from the animal and grounds the self-transcendent nature of our lives. It is our openness to mystery that constitutes the foundation of our freedom and liberates us from the slavery of mere morality. It is because of our capacity for mystery that we experience the uneasiness and anxiety that provoke us to move beyond the status quo and seek more intense beauty and more depth of truth.
In short, mystery is what makes a truly human life possible in the first place. (Haught 124) For Haught, the importance of the recognition of the existence of God to human life lies in its ability to allow the individual to transcend the ordinary barriers of life. The function of religion within this context is to enable the individual to recognize the manner in which he may delve into the mystery of God in order to transcend the barriers set to the individual within social reality [i. . the barriers of sex and social status]. In line with this, it is important to note that Haught’s discussion does not place emphasis on the role of God within one particular religion. On the other hand, his discussion is veered towards the justification of the necessity of God’s existence within any form of religion. For Haught, within all these religions, the similarity between them lies in their conception of the experience of God as an experience of mystery.
To equate God with mystery enables the function of God within these religious institutions to free the concept ‘God’ from the narrow ideas of ultimacy. In summary, John Haught’s What is God equates God to the experience of mystery since the experience of mystery as can be seen in the experience of depth, the future, freedom, beauty, and truth, allows the continuous evolution of humanity’s experience of God and hence in the process does not lead to the limitation of God as an anthropomorphic figure.
One may note that such a view is in accordance to John Haught’s evolutionary theology as it places emphasis on the role of the evolution of human consciousness in the discovery of God. Since the mysterious events are always in accordance to what is known and what is not known by man, the development or evolutions of man’s consciousness and man himself may be equated with man’s drive towards the discovery of God.
By equating God with the experience of mysterious events, events which go beyond an individual’s understanding, Haught was able to allow the synthesis of the view that man stands as an entity that is continually evolving and the view that man’s evolution is in line with the discovery of mystery however God continues to stand as a bigger entity as opposed to man as his existence is continuously affirmed by the experience of mysterious or unknown events as is the case with the experience of depth, future freedom, beauty, and truth stated in John Haught’s What is God.

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