The Egoism of God

Our modern difficulty with the idea that we are created by God may well spring, not from any lopsided view of God, but from a lopsided view of creation. These are corporate days, and creation brings to mind the world of business, that is, creation which serves a useful purpose for its creator, whether by the accumulation of profit or the convenience that it brings.

But God is not a capitalist. He does not seek to gain by creating us. God is an artist, and art has the remarkable quality of uselessness, transcending the category of use by being good in itself. The purpose of art is simply to be, clearly and in wholeness. The mind stutters at the question “What is the use of a Cezanne?” because the question seeks to wedge that which exists for its own sake into the category of economy, the category of objects which exist to serve some useful purpose.

Dawkins-type atheists — may they be blessed, kept, and their Twitter followers multiplied — often bring up the apparent egoism of God as a super-effective strike against his non-existent character. The late great Hitchens harped on this point, drawing a confident connection between God and Kim Jong Il: Is he really so needy for attention, so desperate for affirmation that he had to create people to praise him? But this is a fundamental misunderstanding of praise, one that arises from a conception of a capitalist-God, that is, a creator who seeks to get from his creation.

Praise is not an addition to God, as if every time I mutter through the Divine Praises the Lord of Heaven and Earth gains 20 self-esteem points and doesn’t feel like he has to post on Facebook that evening to make sure people still like him. Praise is honesty. God gets nothing from praise, rather, praise admits what is already true of him and his relation to us. It is true that we are contingent beings entirely dependent on Love for our existence, and to fall on our knees and express this fact is not to compliment God — it is to be honest. It is true that God is Beauty, and to sing this out in ecstasy is not our effort to bolster God’s ego, it is our effort to live in truth, to express authentically our relation to Eternity. It is precisely because praise has nothing to do with compliment that the greatest record of human praise in existence — the Book of Psalms — spits piss and vinegar at God in praise:

I have been mortally afflicted since youth;
I have borne your terrors and I am made numb.
Your wrath has swept over me;
your terrors have destroyed me.

All day they surge round like a flood;
from every side they encircle me.
Because of you friend and neighbor shun me;
my only friend is darkness. (Psalm 88)

If you cannot understand that these words praise God, you cannot understand religion, for praise bears witness to the reality of our relation to God, and is thus, properly understood, stuffed with as much obscurity, uncertainty, anger, and frustration as with peace. The spiritual problem of modern, evangelical atheism is that it refuses to comprehend the fact that the Christian, insofar as he is a Christian, has his eyeballs pressed against his God in the same way one touches noses with a lion. We behold the unbeholdable with a joy that does not exclude terror. Until the new atheist discovers that there is more anger against God, more doubt in his presence, more uncertainty in his nature, more sickening over his absence, in short, until he discovers — perhaps through Nietzsche – that there is more atheism in the Judeo-Christian tradition than there is in his atheism, the religious man will remain an incomprehensible absurdity and his psalms ridiculous.

But this brings us back to our conception of God as artist. If we were made to praise God, and praise is existential honesty — that prayerful witness by which we declare the truth about God, ourselves, and the convergence of the twain — then saying “we were made to praise God” is synonymous with saying “we were made to be.” To be made to praise is to be made to show the truth about yourself in all clarity — to be who you are in fullness.

Art for art’s sake, says Oscar Wilde. Art with no higher purpose than being itself and revealing itself in clarity, splendor, wholeness and truth. The person for his own sake, we say in our modern, Christian-based affirmation of the universal dignity of every man, but do we recognize the connection? Man exists for his own sake, and as such may be understood as a work of art, a poem in love with its poet, a symphony aware of itself and overflowing with gratitude towards its composer for the fact of being, and being beautiful. Here many myths speak of an already sensed connection between the person and the work of art. We are that statue loved into life, that marvelous piece of clay-work whose lungs hum with the breath of our creator, made for our own sake, and more — made to know it.

  • Charmaine

    This is so beautiful, and exactly what i needed to read right now. Thank you, and praise God for your incredible gift

  • The Other Weirdo

    You’ve made quite a few assertions in this article. God is… God is not… Praise is…

    What is your justification for these assertions?

    • http://wasteyourtime.mtgames.org/ Scaevola

      Partially Aquinas’ Third Way, partially JPII’s personalist teachings, partially GKC, partially his own thoughts in seeking to understand his faith?

      My guess.

    • Sir Mark

      Oh, for Lord’s sake. This is a blog column, not a book.

  • steph

    amazing! thank you.

  • Mark Connolly

    Because Marc has been posting for a while, there are assertions made that generally have been supported in some previous post, or by reference to some philosophical principle. There is a continuum experienced by those who read bloggers, and it would be tedious for the blogger, and even more tedious for the readers, for Marc to again and again lay down the basis for such basic assertions as “God is not a capitalist” and “God is an artist”. On his behalf I will provide the following information which you may find useful.

    Most of what Marc is going to be posting will have it’s foundation in Catholic Theology, and much of Catholic Theology will have an Aristotelian/Thomistic philosophical infrastructure. God is understood in this framework as simply being. God is, hence the “I Am” response to Moses asking “Who shall I say sent me?” “Tell them I Am sent you”.

    By ways that are fairly lengthy to properly expound, we have from this that God is necessarily perfect and complete lacking nothing. From this we have that God is not a capitalist for he his not motivated by need or greed – he needs nothing, while the basis of capitalism involves the acquisition of goods. He is not a capitalist for capitalists lack for things or desire more things. God lacks for nothing.

    God is an artist because as being itself he is again perfect, and so all things we see as attributes are realized perfectly, meaning God is Good. The good is diffusive of itself, hence creation – artists create, God is the perfect artist.

    The above needs all manner of support from me, but that is an incomplete distillation of some of the underlying support for the assertions I am assuming you are questioning. Hope that helps.

    Mark

    • The Other Weirdo

      Okay, I get it, but this is empty assertion, a virtual concept completely unrelated to the real world and backed up by more virtual concepts. What you are basically saying is that X is X because Aquinas said it is X by way of ways that are fairly lengthy to properly expound. How do you know that Aquinas knew what he was talking about?

      • Guest

        sorry, but I am very specifically not saying X is X because Aquinas or anyone said it was. What I tried to say is that Marc’s assertions have a rather lengthy back story that it become tedious to repeat over and over.

        So, I’ll just ask this question: in a necessarily ordered chain of events (necessary as opposed to merely temporally) say for example slowly moving a can on a level surface by use of a stick, what happens to the can if you stop moving your hand? Or if the stick stops touching the can?

        I ask this question because it is related to one of Aquinas’s proofs for the existence of God. Because I understand the what happens above, i.e., that the can will stop moving if I move my hand, or the can will stop moving if the stick is no longer touching it, I can understand the remainder of Aquinas’s argument because it becomes self-evident. It is by going through that exploration that I know that Aquinas knew what he was talking about.

      • Mark Connolly

        sorry, but I am very specifically not saying X is X because Aquinas or anyone said it was. What I tried to say is that Marc’s assertions have a rather lengthy back story that it become tedious to repeat over and over.

        So, I’ll just ask this question: in a necessarily ordered chain of events (necessary as opposed to merely temporally) say for example slowly moving a can on a level surface by use of a stick, what happens to the can if you stop moving your hand? What happens if the stick stops touching the can?

        I ask this question because it is related to one of Aquinas’s proofs for the existence of God. Because I understand that what happens above, i.e., that the can will stop moving if I stop moving my hand, or the can will stop moving if the stick is no longer touching it, I can understand the remainder of Aquinas’s
        argument because it becomes self-evident. It is by going through that exploration that I know that Aquinas knew what he was talking about.

        • The Other Weirdo

          Are you suggesting that we take the Theory of Intelligent Falling seriously? I ask this because what happens if you remove your stick just as the can tips over the edge of the surface? And even if apparently stationary, the can still moves, dragged along with the planet as it orbits the sun, as the sun moves along with the galaxy, etc.

          What are “necessarily ordered chain of events”?

          And by the way, this “proof” is nothing of the sort. It is nothing more than an empty assertion, forever incapable of being proven true or false. It’s a virtual concept, nothing more.

          • Sir Mark

            I don’t usually argue this way, but the answers to your questions are so obvious that I’d bet if you sat in a dark room for 30 seconds, the answers would come to you.

          • The Other Weirdo

            Perhaps you’re right, but the real test is, would they be the same answers that would occur to everybody on the planet?

          • Mark Connolly

            Dear TOW – “necessarily ordered chain of events” are those events that are necessarily connected, i.e., if one thing is missing the whole thing stops. This is frequently conflated with temporally ordered events and not understood for what it is. Necessary means necessary. Temporally ordered events are simply events that happen one after the other, in order, and which may or may not be causally linked.

            As a quick aside, while you needed to have parents to now exist, you don’t still need parents to continue to exist. Your parents preceded you of course, and were necessary to your creation, but they are no longer necessary to your continued existence. You and your parents are temporally ordered, not necessarily ordered. Yes, yes, they were necessary to get you into the world. But, they are not necessary any more, and therefore don’t meet the requirements of the definition of necessarily ordered.

            The answer to your question of what happens when you push the can off the edge is that it falls. Not intelligently either. It’s been pushed off. But, A) You no longer have a series of necessarily ordered events. Just like the continued existence of your parents is no longer necessary for your continued existence, the can moving is no longer dependent on the stick. The stick can flash out of existence at that point, the can will still fall. B) that wasn’t the question. C) I didn’t offer a proof of anything, I asked a question, then explained that because I understood the question and the underlying logic I could follow Aquinas’s argument (which I did not provide) and see it’s validity. Your assert, without reason, that the proof I reference is a virtual concept, even though I have not presented a proof. I am not trying to prove the existence of God here, I was answering the question “How do you know that Aquinas knew what he was talking about?” I suppose a better answer would have been “Because I have studied him enough to be satisfied that he knows what he is talking about, not because of authority or faith, but because of his clarity of thought and the rigor with which he develops his arguments coupled with the fact that in my life I have not come across any empirical data that refutes his arguments.”

            Lastly – re: Intelligent Falling – since the Theory of Intelligent Falling is a deliberate parody of Intelligent Design – and as I am not a proponent of Intelligent Design any way, No, that is not what I am suggesting.

            And just to clarify any potential confusion, I am not Sir Mark, I just happen to share part of his handle there.

          • Gail Finke

            “Virtual concept”? What in the world are you talking about? You seem to mean “first principle,” but in a bad way.

          • The Other Weirdo

            Perhaps I am phrasing it badly, but it basically means a concept that has no relation to the real world. It’s a mind exercise only.

    • Anon

      Lol, courtier’s reply before the commenters even get started.

  • Anon

    It is remarkable how Marc labours under an extremely philosophically impoverished view of the nature of art. I’m glad artists have bucked the notion of art as useless, and recognize that art is frequently as much a political enterprise as a purely aesthetic one.

    • Zac

      your gladness is a little useless.

    • Tom

      Why is it philosophically impoverished?

  • John

    Reflecting on the title, “The Egoism of God”, is not the opposite of egoism humility and don’t we consider humility a virtue? If humility is a virtue, God should be its exemplar; and so He has shown Himself to be particularly in the incarnation, life, passion and death of Jesus. Egoism is akin to pride and God has no reason to be proud as if there were something He lacked to which He has attained. He owes
    nothing, lacks nothing and His generosity never diminishes Him. His creation is witness to His lack of egoism, especially when His creative love extends to bringing into existence creatures with free will knowing they will try to use it against Him as if they could create in themselves something better without Him. As Marc note, praise isn’t about egoism, it’s about responding in kind with humility to the simple truth of the love that is our existence.

  • M

    Humility is nothing but the truth. If I was to state that I am merely a ” breathing speck of dust in the cosmos” , it would be true, grossly simplified,but essentially true. To state that God is ” The omnipotent ruler of all, the King of Kings, the Almighty Judge , ‘the Way,the Truth,and the Life’” is to state the truth of God’s own existence. What appears to many atheists to be divine egoism or arrogance is simply truth. If I claimed to be the omnipotent ruler of the universe I would be lying.Which is essentially what arrogance amounts to , a fictitious, puffed up view of one’s self that is rather obnoxious.
    Loved the post , Marc

  • M.S.

    Very interesting article Marc, thanks for sharing. I often struggle in answering an atheist’s complaint “why would a God want / need to be constantly praised?” Clearly I know God doesn’t necessarily want (and definitely doesn’t need) such praise. But you answered that question much more eloquently than I have ever been able to. Thanks.

  • http://lotharson.wordpress.com/ Lothars Sohn

    I don’t know, it is weird that God reproach us our egoism, Jesus on earth wasn’t egoist at all, but God would be egoist?

    This doesn’t make any sense.

    I believe we’re a piece of clay with feelings and free will!

    Regards.

    Lothars Sohn – Lothar’s son

    http://lotharlorraine.wordpress.com

  • GCBill

    “Until the new atheist discovers that there is more anger against God,
    more doubt in his presence, more uncertainty in his nature, more
    sickening over his absence, in short, until he discovers — perhaps
    through Nietzsche – that there is more atheism in the Judeo-Christian
    tradition than there is in his atheism, the religious man will remain an
    incomprehensible absurdity and his psalms ridiculous.”

    The only thing “incomprehensible” is that you would conflate atheism with antitheism for the sake of sounding profound. Not only that, but ignore the context of the antitheism within your tradition as part of a process (*not* a conclusion as in antitheistic atheism).

  • Guest

    You can praise God as much as you want, but he still won’t actually exist. The fact is we evolved from single-celled organisms. We weren’t created. When you pray you are simply thinking thoughts to yourself. The cosmos at large takes no interest in us, it does not punish the guilty or reward those who do good. It won’t notice if we live or die. That’s the truth.

  • Gail Finke

    “Praise is not an addition to God, as if every time I mutter through the Divine Praises the Lord of Heaven and Earth gains 20 self-esteem points…” HA HA HA Great way to put that!

  • Aprendo

    In Fulton Sheen’s book “You” I like how describes why one should praise God in the question “What is God like?
    “The word “worship” is a contraction of worth ship.” It is a manifestation of the worth in which we hold another person. When you applaud an actor on the stage, or a returning hero, you are “worshiping” him. Every time a man takes off his hat to a lady, he is “worshipping” her. Now to worship God means to acknowledge in some way HisWorth, His Power, His Goodness, and His Truth.

    If you do not worship God, you worship something, and nine times out of ten it will be yourself. If there is no God, then you are a god; and if you are a god and your own law and you r own creator , then I am an atheist. The basic reason there is so little worship of god today is because man denies he is a creature. But we have not yet answered the question: “why should you worship God? You have a duty to worship God, not because He will be imperfect and unhappy if you do not, but because You will be imperfect and unhappy.

    If you are a father, do you no like to receive a tiny little gift, such as a penny chocolate cigar, from your sone? Why do you value it more than a box of Corona Coronas from you insurance agent? If you are a mother don’t not your heart find a greater joy in a handful of yellow dandelions from your little daughter than a bouquet of roses from a dinner guest? Dp these trivialities make you richer? Do you need them? Would you be imperfect without them? They are absolutely of no utility to you! And yet you love them. And why? Because by these gifts your children are “worshipping ” you; they are acknowledging your love, your goodness, and by doing so they are perfecting themselves; that is they are developing along the lines of love rather than hate, thankfulness rather than ingratitude, therefore they are becoming more perfect children and happier children as well.

    As you do not need dandelions and chocolate cigars, neither does God need your worship. But if their giving is a sign of your worth in your children’s eyes, then is not prayer, adoration, and worship a sign of God’s worth in our eyes? And if you do not need your children’s worship, why do you think God needs yours? But if the worship of your children is their perfection, not yours, then may not your worship of God be not for His perfection, but yours? Worship is your opportunity to express devotion, dependence, and love, and in doing that you make yourself happy.

    A lover does not give gifts to the beloved because she is poor; he gives gifts because she is already in his eyes possessed of all gifts. The more he loves, the poorer he thinks his gifts are. If he gave everything, even that would not be enough. One of the reasons he takes price tags off his gifts is not because he is ashamed, but because he does not wish to establish a proportion between his gift and his love. His gifts do not make her more precious but they him less inadequate. The gift is his perfection , not hers. Worship in like manner is our perfection, not God’s.

    God would still be perfectly happy if you never existed. God has no need of your love, for there is nothing in you, of and by yourself, which makes you lovable to God. Most of us are fortunate to have even a spark of affection from our fellow creatures. God does not love us from the same reason that we love others. We love others because of need and incompleteness. But God does not love us because we are valuable; we are valuable because He loves us.

    God thirsts for your love, not be you are His waters of everlasting life, but because you are the thirst, He the waters. He needs you only because you need Him. Without Him you re imperfect; but without you, He is still perfect. It is the echo that needs the Voice, and not the Voice that needs the echo.

    ….This is not a broadcast about God, it is a plea to love God. Worship Him because He is your perfection, more than knowledge is the perfection of the mind. Love Him because you cannot be happy without love. Love Him quite apart from all you are, for you have the right to love Him in your heart, even thought you don always succeed in loving Him in you acts. Think a little less about whether you deserve to be love by Him; He loves you even though you are not deserving– it is His love alone that will make you deserving. It is love that confers value. ” Nobody loves me” is the equivalent of being valueless. Hence the more important the person who loves you, the more precious is your value. You are infinitely precioius because you are loved by God.

  • ChevalierdeJohnstone

    This reminds me of the Chesterton passage from “Orthodoxy” that points out that the fact that the sun appears to rise and set without fail every day is evidence not for a stochastic, impersonal, clockwork universe, but evidence that it can only have been made to behave perfectly in that way by a supremely-talented Creator.

  • ClassicPhilosophy

    Mark Connolly,
    Think you mean an “essentially ordered series” vs a “accidently ordered” one. And you may rest assured that no empirical evidence will ever contradict Aquinas; science, of the nature of its inquiry, cannot critique metaphysical demonstrations.
    Pax tecum


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