Dispelling a Delusion about the Subjunctive Mood (Why Saying I Would Not Worship God If…Is Not Insulting to God)
Ever since I said here that if God were the God described by TULIP and the God of divine determinism, the author of sin and evil, I would not worship him I have been besieged by critics who suffer under the delusion that I said something about God—something demeaning to God’s glorious transcendence (etc.). The same happens when I say if God were the God of TULIP and divine determinism, the author of sin and evil, he would be a moral monster.
That’s simply a trick of the mind—to think I said (am saying) something about God.
We all know there are optical illusions which are actually delusions brought about by mistakes made by the brain via sight. The same can happen about ideas—delusions brought about my incorrect thinking and misunderstanding.
When I say that if God were the God described by Calvinism I would not worship him because he would be a moral monster, I am not saying anything insulting, demeaning or disrespectful about God. Please pay attention.
I have three best friends: Tom, Dick and Harry. The four of us have been inseparable friends, devoted to one another, for forty years. We communicate daily and see each other as often as possible.
But Tom is upset with me. That’s because I said that if Dick were a serial killer I would stop being friends with him because in that case he would be someone else, not the Dick I thought I knew, and he would be a moral monster. Tom said “That’s insulting to Dick.”
Here’s what happened.
Harry has a mental and emotional problem that causes him sometimes to suffer delusions about other people. For some reason he has come to believe that Dick is a serial killer. He believes Dick sneaks out of his house at night and murders innocent people just for the fun of it. For some reason Harry doesn’t have a problem with this—at least not one that affects his friendship with Dick.
But when talking with Tom about Harry’s delusion I said that if it were true (which it isn’t and I’m certain of that) that Dick is a serial killer I would stop being his friend. That’s because, in that case, Dick would not be the Dick that I know and love. However, I’m not in the least worried about it because I know that Harry is suffering a delusion. I remain friends with all of them even though Tom is upset with me.
Look, I say to Tom, I’m not saying anything about Dick because Dick isn’t a serial killer. But Tom insists that I am being unfair to Dick because Dick is such a wonderful person. Why, he asks, am I not more loyal to Dick? All I can do is ask a stunned “Huh?” Because I’m not talking about the Dick we both know and love; I’m talking about a hypothetical Dick that doesn’t exist—the one that is a mental delusion in Harry’s mind.
You who accuse me of saying something negative about God when I say that if God were the God of TULIP and divine determinism I would not worship him are laboring under the same mental trick, trick of the mind, that my friend Tom labors under—reifying a hypothetical, projecting onto God something that can be put into words but isn’t the case—as if God might actually be that. That is not at all what I’m saying. I’m saying that if God were the God of TULIP and divine determinism, the author of sin and evil (which is what I would have to believe if I were a Calvinist) I would not worship him because he would be a moral monster. But that God doesn’t exist—just like “that Dick” (the serial killer) doesn’t exist. Dick exists (just as God exist), but that Dick is or might be a serial killer is only the case in Harry’s deluded mind.
(Just for the record, I have no three best friends named Tom, Dick or Harry. It’s just an illustration.)
I suspect that what is often happening is this: Many people who object to my subjunctive-hypothetical statement about what I would do and how I would regard God if…are nominalists/voluntarists with regard to God. That is, they believe God has no permanent, unchanging nature and can be and do whatever he wants to be and do. In other words, they believe God’s will precedes God’s nature. God determines his nature—except that he is infinite, omnipotent and free. He has no stable, unchanging character that governs his will. That is not what I believe. I am a realist with regard to universals and I believe God has a permanent, unchanging character perfectly revealed in Jesus Christ and that goodness, love and justice, are essential facets of that character such that God cannot be other than good, loving and just.
The problem with nominalism/voluntarism, of course, is that it makes it impossible to know who God is—eternally, unchangingly. A nominalist/voluntarist can know (or think she knows) what God is—free, infinite power. But a nominalist/voluntarist has to remain open to the possibility that God will decide to be: unfaithful to his promises, deceitful, unmerciful, unjust, hateful, etc. That God (who doesn’t exist) cannot be trusted.
So either a critic of my subjunctive-hypothetical statements is a nominalist/voluntarist, in which case we are thinking about God from entirely different perspectives (and mine is the traditional Christian one), or she is laboring under a mental trick, an illusion of the mind (like an optical illusion) that somehow I am talking about the real God, the God of Jesus Christ, the God revealed in Scripture when I say “if….” I am no more talking about that God, the real God who is (when I say if he were the God of TULIP and divine determinism I would consider him a moral monster and not worship him) than I am talking about my friend Dick when I say if he were a serial killer I would end our friendship.