“Killest us, lest we die from thee:” Response to Daniel Tippens

by E. John Winner


Prologue: First, let me say that I am very pleased to see Dan Tippens return to the Electric Agora. His contribution to the Agora‘s development cannot be overstated. I am also pleased that he returns here with a well-written essay. Within the limited scope of its concerns and focus, it is tightly argued and seems to present us with a couple of dilemmas about the ability of a divine intelligence to share, empathetically, in the human sense of guilt. My intent is not to tear apart the argument, but to extend the scope of its considerations. The sense of guilt, allied as it is with such other responses as shame and remorse, is an important emotional response to our own behavior in a given moral context, one that aids in controlling future behaviors in similar contexts. Assuming that we ought to have a personal relationship with a divine being who both demands the best behavior from us and also wishes us well – and who is all-knowing and all-powerful to boot – it would seem reasonable that such a being ought to have a clear and complete understanding of the human experience of this sense of guilt, especially since it most oft arises when our behaviors fail to meet his demands. But as Tippens considers this, such an understanding could never be complete since the sense of guilt is a subjective experience, and the divine being – let us call such ‘God’ – is also all good and consequently could never experience the feeling of guilt. But lacking such an understanding, God’s knowledge cannot be absolute, and experiencing such a feeling, God’s own behavior must have failed to meet his own demands.

[A] Let us begin here by reminding ourselves that the feeling of guilt, which is what Tippens discusses, is not itself guilt. ‘Guilt’ identifies a state of being an objectively verifiable condition of having erred according to an accepted standard. The primary usages of the term in our culture relate to religious morality and secular law. In the realm of secular law, it should be noted, guilt may, but not always and by no necessity, evoke within the transgressor a guilty feeling. We certainly want certain transgressors to feel it, and judges will lay it on rhetorically thick in sentencing, reminding the convicted transgressor of his or her heinous crime and how thoroughly despicable a human being they’ve become, by causing injury or death or other harm. However, we should remember that the scofflaw fined a hundred bucks for a traffic infraction – say, speeding – is deemed just as guilty of her crime as the serial killer is of his. The degree of transgression or its harm has nothing to do with any degree of guilt before the law, because there is none. (At least per criminal law. The matter is somewhat different in courts of equity, but that involves a different discussion.) Indeed, we measure out degrees in a number of transgressions, such as murder – second degree manslaughter, first degree homicide, etc. – but if one is judged guilty of the crime, regardless of its degree, the guilt is held absolute. We allow mitigating factors: emotional or mental states; planned transgression vs. impulsive acting out; capacity to make proper judgments impaired by age or, say, inebriation; etc. But while all this may bear upon the charges brought, the mercy of a jury or of a judge, the sentence enacted, they don’t change the basic fact of the matter, that the transgressor transgressed; that the transgressor is thus guilty. But does the weight of this fact necessarily impel a feeling of guilt in the mind of the transgressor? I’ve gotten three speeding tickets in my life, and I confess I never “felt guilty” after any one of them. (I did regret getting caught.)

[B] When we move from the realm of the secular to that of religion, the problems of guilt and the feeling of guilt get considerably more complicated. Let’s consider a concrete example. In Augustine’s Confessions, Book II, Chapters 3, Christianity’s master theologian discusses a return home from school in his sixteenth year. [1] He spends several paragraphs bemoaning his guilt for engaging in what can only be sexual behavior. It begins when his father witnesses what is probably Augustine’s erection at the baths. It should be noted that some Roman baths were not much different from the lower Manhattan baths of the 1970’s – basically, gay playgrounds. In Rome, bisexuality among men was not only legal, it was expected. I have always suspected that Augustine’s first sexual experiences were homosexual. This would explain why Augustine’s language in these paragraphs is both flowery and obfuscatory: Augustine is not only torn with feelings of guilt but of shame. Notably, he deploys the idea of shame against itself – shame is the motivation that leads him to accept the peer-pressure of his friends, and that peer-pressure shames him into shaming himself. Augustine then redirects the discussion into a somewhat oblique report of an argument between his parents concerning his possible future marriage.

The next chapter opens with his famous narrative about how he and his friends stole peaches from a neighbor’s tree, just for the fun of it. By comparison with his discussion of his sex experiences, the narration is clear, distinct, and covers a single paragraph, although it does open the door to a general discussion about the temptations of the material world. It begins: “Theft is punished by Thy law, O Lord, and the law written in the hearts of men, which iniquity itself effaces not.” That last clause refers to the fact that thieves themselves do not like other thieves to steel from them – there appears to be no “Categorical Imperative” for thieves. But more to our point, there is no remark here concerning secular law. And there should be. Male bisexuality was legal in Roman culture, but theft certainly was not. Yet Augustine exhibits less shame for the theft than he does for the sexual experiences. That is because his standard of reference is a moral code laid out in a sacred book; secular law be damned.

[C] Most theistic religions adhere to some sort of either Divine Command Morality or Moral Realism (they are not identical) or some mixture of the two. So, we first note that the standard of behavior that the guilty are held to transgress is absolute. Often this means that the believer must juggle priorities concerning which transgression to engage as opposed to those standards that ought never be transgressed. The popular example of this is that of the Gestapo knocking at the door in search of hidden Jews. For most of believers (I would hope), lying to the Gestapo is a lesser transgression than handing over the hidden Jew, which would amount to accessory to murder. If this occurs in 1930’s Germany, then lying to the Gestapo would be breaking the law, while handing over the Jew would be law-abiding, but here we can note that discussing guilt in a religious context has nothing to do with matters of secular law. (This is actually an important point that has caused all sorts of havoc with practical politics and legislation, which unfortunately we cannot go into very deeply here.) For one thing, there are in religion, unlike in secular law, degrees of guilt. Lying to the Gestapo, one is not terribly guilty, especially since a life has been saved thereby. A quick “Hail Mary” will absolve one. Lying to a priest in a confession booth, on the other hand, is a profound betrayal of faith, since speaking to the priest is supposedly an indirect communication with the divine Himself. Yet the act has the same status, it is intentionally telling an untruth, regardless of motivation. Ah, but that’s the point: in religion, motivations matter. This has formed part of the subject of intense psychological analysis throughout the history of Christian theology. (Here, let me admit that I am largely discussing Christian theology, since unraveling similar issues in other theistic religions would take us far afield, although it may help to reference what little I know of them.) We see it in such questions as: How guilty can one be if one masturbates at an age too early to know how dreadful a sin this really is? What is the level of guilt one can assign to heathens that have never encountered the true faith? What “works” or how many acts of repentance are needed to acquire redemption from venal versus mortal sins? And don’t think I am getting frivolous. This has practical application when applied by a priest determining whether repentance requires two or twenty Our Fathers; or how King Henry must humble himself for having incited the murder of Thomas à Becket.

But the matter is further complicated for most mainstream Christian sects – certainly the Catholic, the Calvinist, the Lutheran – by the fundamental cosmogenesis of their moral universe; the so-called “Fall of Man.” Humans (all humans, as human) are born in a condition of guilt. They didn’t have to do anything at all. Adam and Eve did that, and so predetermined human nature, not only as sinful but as sinning right from birth. One of the more important debates, around the time of Augustine was whether baptism at birth were enough to save an infant or whether the soul of an infant dying shortly after birth without baptism would be sent directly to Hell. Augustine held that such would be the case. After all, God’s foreknowledge effectively sealed the fate of the infant’s soul: it was created to burn in hell. God does not love individuals. God loves a species, “Man,” from which he chooses individuals for special grace, alleviating them from the damnation their birthright assures them. Exactly how He makes his choice of individuals is unknown. Presumably, His absolute knowledge includes those He wishes to worship him for the duration of His existence. (I was going to write “throughout eternity,” but as Augustine points out, ‘eternity’ is a measure of time, and God exists outside of time, and even “eternity” eventually comes to an end.) However, it is possible and acceptable to theologians, that God chooses completely by whim. Being all powerful, he can do – and will do – anything he chooses. The Islamic philosopher al Ghazali argued that it is undeniably possible that God re-creates the entire universe every second. You think you have been reading this article for the past ten minutes, but really that very thought has been created only a moment ago, along with all your accompanying memories. Al Ghazali is not engaging a thought-experiment: he realized that this is what “all powerful” actually means. A good deal of our understanding of the divine in the West has been stabilized, but to some extent trivialized, by the latent presumption that there is some sort of contract between Man and God; that God doesn’t exercise all the power He can with us because of some sort of agreement with Moses and his inheritors. But an all-powerful being can make and break contracts as He pleases. The relationship between Man and God forms a kind of cosmic psychodrama, but it is scripted by God for His own entertainment.

We should remark a problem that lingers behind Tippens’ discussion without proper notification: Plato’s famous Euthyphro dilemma. Is God good because he maintains a standard of Good, separable conceptually from His being? Or is the Good good because God wills it? I’m not going into this deeply. I only note that the mainstream theologies of the Abrahamic religions in the West hold to the latter view. If Tippens’ article has any serious problem, it is that he assumes that the former view is the more reasonable. But despite the fact that more liberal religious congregations do tend to lean this way, their theological core remains a trust in God’s will. Without God’s will, there is no grace, without grace, there is no salvation.

[D] Of course, Christianity enjoys a further complication not shared with Judaism or Islam:  The Christ. The Christ is held to be the Messiah seemingly promised by earlier Judaic texts. As such, he is at once human and divine, fulfillment of the Law of the so-called “Old Testament,” and the Law itself. God as self-sacrifice in order to redeem the whole of the Human race. Put in such all-encompassing terms, it’s easy to see why Rice and Webber deemed him the world’s first “Superstar.” Yet each of these terms, taken in detail, conflict with other terms in the same set of terms. If Christ has redeemed the whole of Humankind, why bother with baptism? Who now is not born saved? By designing His own Crucifixion ahead of time, hasn’t He engaged a kind of symbolic suicide, and can He still be God after that? And Tippens is wrong that Jesus is completely free of sin: “Eloi Eloi lama sabachthani?!” is a cry of Despair, which is the inverse of the sin of Pride; the Original Sin; the rebellion of eating the Forbidden Fruit. [2] Jesus then submits to God’s will, achieving repentance and redemption all at once. Jesus thus becomes the New Adam, through which Paradise can be regained. But then why does the cosmic psychodrama continue? Why, if the Law has been fulfilled, is there still the Law?

[E] There is something else that Jesus brings to the stage of world history, embodied primarily in the Sermon on the Mount: It is the insistence on personal responsibility; the assumption that the Good, the Right, the Moral, can only be realized by the individual. When Jesus provides directions for proper behavior, he is more often addressing individuals, rather than whole communities. Even when he addresses a collective, he is speaking to the individual: “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.” This is arguably Jesus’ greatest contribution to the otherwise loose assortment of societies and cultures we refer to as Western Civilization. But by emphasizing the individual’s moral responsibility – well beyond the demands of adherence to community law – he generated a fissure between the individual and the community that institutionalization of his following into a church only partly and temporarily healed. Because the Law – the Moral Reality – is now unhinged from community expectations, its definition requires individual interpretation collectively agreed within the institution. Where there is serious disagreement, the individual is on his or her own. Some standard must be found by which the individual can assert responsibility in opposition to the community. This standard may be determined through reason, but it may simply be a feeling, an emotional response.  “Here I stand,” proclaims Luther, “I can do no other!” But why not? Surely the Brothers of his monastic order could. But despite his arguments, many of his 95 Theses are pure assertion: he feels them and feels impelled to hold to them in the face of institutional threat. “I feel this is right; I would feel guilty for not doing it.” And after Augustine, Luther is one of the “guiltiest” of moral theologians. The history of the Reformation begins here, but so does the Modernity that arises in response to it. Each feels the guilt, but each feels his or her own way to redemption.

[F] In his article, Tippens presents two related syllogisms, which we will now resolve:


God is Omniscient (all-knowing)

God is Omnipotent (all-powerful)

God is Omnibenevolent (all-good)

Evil exists

God cannot be Omniscient, Omnipotent, and Omnibenevolent

Solution: Evil exists, because God wills it. It therefore fulfills a purpose to his desire, in the grand psychodrama of the relationship between Himself and Man. It is therefore merely an inversion of Good, whose purpose is to incite Man to greater worship of the divine. (It may also help determine who will receive grace or who will be damned, but theologians disagree as to whether this matters.)


If God is all-knowing, then he knows what it is like to experience guilt

If God is all-good, then he has never experienced guilt, for he is without sin

If God has never experienced guilt, then he cannot know what it is like to experience it

There cannot be an all-good and all-knowing God

Solution: As noted in a comment to the article, that God knows the feeling of guilt means precisely that he doesn’t need to experience it. Yet here we have also seen that it is possible for God to choose to have sinned and thus felt guilt, as one interpretation of the Passion on the Cross would have it. But of course, he did this rather performatively rather than with any emotional investment. There was a part to play in the drama he Himself had scripted. He played the part. The believer thanks Him and does not question.

Finally, a last note, concerning a comment by Dan Kaufman: “Love is an emotion and requires embodiment.” But Christian theologians have long made the distinction between Divine love and Human love; between Agape and Eros in modern resurrection of Greek terminology. [3] This is also found in certain Sufi texts and Jewish texts (Buber’s “I and Thou”). Eros, Human love does require embodiment; but Agape is a condition of wholly giving one’s self up to the other. But as I have suggested, God’s “love” is for a species He has created; even should He engage Agape, He probably would not do so for any particular individual. The Abrahamic God is a narcissist. He loves Himself.

Epilogue: It is discussions like this that make me glad I’m a Buddhist. Suffering all that can be suffered as a boy raised a Catholic, I haven’t felt the kind of guilt Tippens discusses in the thirty years since persuaded by the Four Noble Truths and their Eight-Fold Path. The Dhammapada, assigned to the Buddha’s own authorship (but probably a later codification), is one of the most rigorous (one might even say rigid) ethical texts in world literature. However, failing to live up to its injunctions does not evoke a sense of guilt, but only of disappointment; rather like recovering from a relapse for an addict. That’s because the world is filled with disappointment. Moral Realist demands and their enforcement through the feeling of guilt come close to sadomasochism. That is why we ought to establish secular laws and their secular enforcement.  The secular state exists to deny any force to Divine Command Morality or any Moral Realism.  We don’t know what is Right and Wrong in any absolute sense.  We can know, and do know, what it is we agree to, in order to live peacefully with others within a pluralistic society. Thus, I leave the last word to one of the great philosophers of the modern liberal state, John Stuart Mill:

“I will call no being good, who is not what I mean when I apply that epithet to my fellow-creatures; and if such a being can sentence me to hell for not so calling him, to hell I will go.” [4]


[1]  E. B. Pusey, trans.; https://faculty.georgetown.edu/jod/augustine/Pusey/book02; the quote in the title of the present article is from here.

[2]  See, for instance, Bryan Threlkeld, “A Cry of Dereliction;” https://faithalone.org/grace-in-focus-articles/eloi-eloi-lama-sabachthani/

[3]  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Agape_and_Eros

[4]  J.S. Mill, Examination of Sir William Hamilton’s Philosophy. (1865)


17 responses to ““Killest us, lest we die from thee:” Response to Daniel Tippens”

  1. 1970scholar

    I really loved this response to Tippens, even its length! To get more into the weeds you seem to raise Buddhism as a tradition “above” Christianity as you construe it here. I do think this is mistaken on a couple of levels. First it implies that Christianity is as its practitioners say it is, for example Augustine. Secondly, it creates a unbridgeable chasm between Buddhism and Christianity. As for the former I think historical Christianity is big mess and I do think that this mess is distinct form the still most valuable Christianity. As for the second point which connects to the former, there are deep spiritual connections between Christianity and Buddhism, connections that have been undertheorized and overlooked, mainly due to problem in religious historiography which hI believe to have had in turn huge influences on the psychology of believers themselves on the ground and in the street.
    Looked at in this way the advantage of Buddhism is not so much an advantage to Buddhism but really a big misinterpretation of Christianity itself. Just a thought.

  2. Daniel Tippens

    Hi Ej,

    Thanks for taking the time to reply to my article, what you’ve written is great. Also thanks for expanding on guilt and god, your essay was insightful.

    I had one question and one comment. The question is if you can expand on how Jesus’ cry of despair indicates he felt guilt in any sense similar to our own. It certainly indicates pain, but could you trace out how this implies guilt?

    When you reply to my argument here, “As noted in a comment to the article, that God knows the feeling of guilt means precisely that he doesn’t need to experience it.” is this any different from what I said at the end of my article regarding how my argument isn’t a deep problem for the faithful christian who accepts that God knows some things and we cannot know how?

    Glad to be interacting with you again.

  3. 1970scholar,
    Well, I certainly hope I didn’t end up sounding smug about Buddhism! I don’t see it as “above” Christianity; it answers some of the same anxieties as does Christianity or any religion; but its goals, including its ‘endgame, nirvana, are actually quite different. Nonetheless, it has satisfied me, and may satisfy others with similar issues. Christianity, or some other religion, or even some secular philosophy, may satisfy others. I brought it up largely because Buddhism delivered me from a profound sense of guilt inculcated in my education as a Catholic. But there are both the connections you mention; and it certainly important to remember the difference between the Christianity or Buddhism of theory and esoteric texts, and the everyday practice on the ground and in the streets. You raise interesting points that I think worth thinking about and exploring.

  4. DanT,
    Again welcome back.

    So the question really is, what is the difference between God’s knowledge of the experience of feeling guilty, and God’s possible experience of guilt, or the experience of guilt per se?

    First, God knows the experience of guilt, the feeling of guilt, because He created it. It is the visceral reminder of the expulsion from paradise. It serves His purpose. Secondly when it is said that God’s knowledge is absolute, this means he has at once every kind of knowledge possible, not just conceptual or articulate knowledge. That weird sensation you have when you touch a certain kind of slimy fruit you’ve never held before – even as you search for words, God already knows that sensation, and the words you will choose to describe it (important to you, but trivial to Him, since the sensation itself – which He created and delights in – is the true knowledge you are supposed to learn in that encounter – the words that come to you, he already knows, he knows all words, words are only possible because He is the Word.

    Before inquiry into any particular knowledge God might be said to have, it helps to ask the central question, what is *Absolute* Knowledge of Absolutely Everything?

    (Asking this question also gives an interesting perspective on Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit, since Hegekl was trained in theology and understood what is at stake here.)

    In the same way, with al Ghazali, we need to ask what it would truly mean for a being to enjoy Absolute Power, including powers to create (or destroy) everything that is not Himself. (Hindusim has an interesting counterpoint to this, in that there is in Hinduism nothing that is not God, only God forgetting Himself, or ignoring Himself, or entertaining Himself by playfully alternating personas.)

    To clarify Jesus’ cry of despair – again, despair is the inverse of the sin of Pride – this makes it a sin. Jesus sins on the cross, and then repents and receives redemption. This reminds us that the proper response to the Original Sin, the guilt of which we are born with, is not despair, since this just keeps making us somehow important, but humble repentance and acceptance of grace.

    Obviously this offers consolation to the Christian, especially if it remains somewhat mysterious. But the point is, God can transform Himself if He desires, to experience anything at all. However, as noted above this isn’t necessary.

    I think one of our differences is, I think that to you it would make sense that a merciful God (an *all* merciful God) would necessarily be an empathetic or sympathetic God; and I see no reason to assume this should be the case. (Again, the Hindus have a somewhat different sense of this. “I am become Death, destroyer of worlds” – this is not a metaphor.) For humans, mercy is a kind of fuzzy-logic judgment (which requires far greater discussion than we can have here); for God it is a function of the cosmic drama God has scripted to get Man back into His paradise.

    I don’t know how comforting that could be; but I understand why the hope of a sympathetic or empathetic God is attractive.

    One last note; I think one has to apply philosophy to theological questions very cautiously. In the Middle Ages theologians were also philosophers, because they were trying to articulate the relationship between God (who is technically incomprehensible, and thus does not need to yield to any reasoning) and His Creation as we humans can know it, which clearly demands of us articulation, best achieved through reasoning. However, one has to remember that Aquinas abandoned his writing with the dismissive “It’s all straw.” They believed, as modern philosophers do not, that faith is primarily an emotional attachment to a being they “knew” existed because the emotional attachment assured them He did, and thus articulation was merely for purposes of edification. They were theologians because they had faith, not because of any philosophy.

    Spinoza was a brilliant thinker; but his decision to meld reason and being, and thus the divine (while not without precedent, going back to the ancients) was not only a theological mistake (for which he was widely condemned) but also a philosophic error, which nonetheless had beneficial consequences. But error it was, because God’s conceptual space need not be grounded in any logic, so how can it be identified with any logic?

  5. Daniel Tippens

    Hey again EJ,

    “First, God knows the experience of guilt, the feeling of guilt, because He created it…They were theologians because they had faith, not because of any philosophy.”

    I’m worried about the idea that God knows the experience of guilt because he created it. Creation doesn’t imply total knowledge of the created. Take parents and their children, or machine-learning algorithms, for example. We create our kids but certainly don’t know everything about them, and the same goes for that high-tech stuff thats doing so much work today. This leads me to worry that you’re really just saying, “God has epistemic access in a way we can’t and don’t know about,” which is what I suggested at the end of my essay, “For devout Christians, there is no problem with being mysterians about God’s properties.” Christians, like the theologians, take God’s properties on faith.

    I’ll reply to the rest of your comment later after I’ve chewed on it a bit more.

  6. DanT,
    “Creation doesn’t imply total knowledge of the created.” It doesn’t imply this – it states it outright! That’s why I noted “A good deal of our understanding of the divine in the West has been stabilized, but to some extent trivialized, by the latent presumption that there is some sort of contract between Man and God.” The presumed “contract” – which allows the assumption that God created everything and then stood aside to witness and interact with it for some greater moral purpose (“God is Good because Good exists and God adheres to it” side of the Euthyphro dilemma) – this contract is entirely one sided (in secular law, it would be void; we find it binding only because God is our creator and we feel obliged to him for that, not for anything he promises us). I say, this is the theological fact of the matter.

    Of course, you may want to say, ‘do theologians have greater access to interpretation of the texts and the ontological condition they predicate than philosophers (or for that matter the common reader)?’ And if you are a Protestant the answer would seem to be ‘no,’ except that the ‘literal’ or tropological status of the text is very much open to debate of the most strenuous, even occasionally violent, variety. In other Abrahamic sects, the answer is a given – the sacred texts, because so internally inconsistent and occasionally irrational, require especially trained interpreters, who thus achieve authoritative status in their communities, usually sanctioned institutionally.

    At any rate, this is why I wrote “I think one has to apply philosophy to theological questions very cautiously.” You’re mismatching the subjects of your material. “This leads me to worry that you’re really just saying, “God has epistemic access in a way we can’t and don’t know about,”” I am not saying any such thing, because the notion of “epistemic access” does not apply to the Divine. We are not God’s children, except by metaphor; and we do not create our children, He does; He already has.

    “Who created you.”
    “God created me”
    “Because he loves me.”
    – basic Catechism when I was in religious class as a child. And not a metaphor.

  7. (As a side note, I must say that I would be interested in any response that Peter “labnut” smith might make to all this; I’m sure that the level of disagreement would such that it would be better for me not to respond; but I would welcome reading the response of a devout believer to these remarks. at any rate I certainly hope he is doing well, and still occasionally reads this webzine.)

    (I also find myself in the peculiar position of elucidating a faith – and thus effectively defending it – that I myself do not share. But I am more and more convinced that application of modern philosophy to theological matters is simply a mistake. Historically understandable, given that much modern philosophy arose in consideration of religious matters, but mistake nonetheless. And a highly problematic one, given the passions that religious beliefs often unleash upon the world. Which is why my article ends with recognition of the important lesson I learned writing my essays on Cromwell and the English Revolution – that the liberal state, which is necessarily secular in nature, arose as response to, and constraint of, Divine Command Morality and, by extension, Moral Realism. Moral uncertainty is precisely what allows us to agree to secular law in order to live in peace with one another.)

  8. ‘But this doesn’t make sense -‘
    You’re not here to make sense of it. You’re here to submit to the Will of God and worship Him. Do you not get that?

  9. s. wallerstein

    Spinoza simply isn’t talking about the God you and Dan T. are talking about (if he’s talking about God at all): for Spinoza God is the rational structure of the universe, not a Supreme Being. And many Spinoza experts (I’m not one) claim that Spinoza was a closet atheist, who since being an out of the closet atheist in 17th century Europe could be hazardous to your health, spoke of God when he meant nature, which according to him was rational.

  10. s. wallerstein,
    I think that’s a fair alternative reading of Spinoza, and probably closer to the truth. The Spinoza I write about, however, had the stronger impact in his own time, if I remember rightly. He effectively became the ‘theologian’ of Deism (sometimes acknowledged, sometimes not).

  11. DanT,
    This came out sounding harsher than intended (my tongue was somewhat in my cheek.) Thinking about it overnight, I realized that our disagreements present two very different views of the nature of religious faith and religion-based moral attitudes and behaviors. I gave up approaching religion rationally some years ago. I’m persuaded that faith is primarily – with some people wholly – a matter of emotional attachment, and usually not amenable to rational argument.

  12. Daniel Tippens

    Labnut commented on this article on my site, take a look: https://therelatedpublic.com/2020/07/28/the-problem-of-guilt/

  13. Daniel Tippens

    Hi EJ,

    no worries re harshness, I didn’t take your comment that way.

    “I also find myself in the peculiar position of elucidating a faith – and thus effectively defending it – that I myself do not share. But I am more and more convinced that application of modern philosophy to theological matters is simply a mistake”

    Let me first clarify that I certainly don’t think philosophy is going to get an individual to belief in God. At some point, one has to recognize that there are deep uncertainties as to whether God exists and what kind of God he would be. At this point, like you said, knowledge that God exists is a leap of faith.

    But I do think that asking these philosophical questions can sometimes *be* an *expression* of faith, or atleast in some sense, an expression of a search for it. To be asking philosophical questions about God can suggest a desire to get as close to that deity as possible. At the very least, it shows you are thinking about God. What would you prefer: someone who ignores you or is ignorant of you? Or someone who doubts you? I’d prefer the latter, for it shows some degree of care — the person is spending their time on you and wondering whether trust is apt. You may not have faith when you’re doubting, but you could be approaching it.

    I say this because my argument was conceived under the personal backdrop of dealing with hard questions about God, Guilt, Innocence, and Faith this year. And my philosophical “doubts” actually pulled me closer to the precipice of faith.

    On a final note, I really enjoyed how you used the Euthyphro dilemma in the essay. Nice.

  14. Daniel Tippens

    Hi EJ,

    I reread your comments and I think I see why you’re saying we have different metaphysical frameworks, and how this fits in with the Euthyphro dilemma.

    My paper assumes that god has to conform to our epistemic standards of knowledge acquisition. But you’re pointing out that that’s false, and that he knows things because he creates them, or because he wills it.

    Hence, no serious religious thinker will be moved by the Problem of Guilt, as their metaphysics — and epistemology — is so different as to render debate obsolete. In this sense, philosophy ought to be kept apart from theology, because… what’s the point of it if the disagreements are fundamental and can’t be resolved?

  15. Marc Levesque



    “Yet Augustine exhibits less shame for the theft than he does for the sexual experiences. That is because his standard of reference is a moral code laid out in a sacred book; secular law be damned.”

    Yes, surely, at the same time I’m guessing that sexual experiences were a lot more of a temptation for him than theft.

    Anyway, one of my favorite of your essays, it helped clarify some points for me and brought back memories of my religion classes from when I was a student in high school.

  16. DanT,
    just as historical side note, what we know as ‘epistemology’ is largely an invention of the 16th and 17th centuries (Locke, Descates and others). Until the rise of the Nominalists aroung the 14th Century, the predominant position of theologians was a Moderate (Aristotelian) Realism. The basic presumption was that reality imprinted itself directly into our consciousness, which could be trusted as vouchsafed by the Divine. The problems only came after, as a question of articulation (logic, grammar, rhetoric) on the side of exposition to others, and on the subjective side, issues of response and the judgments and decisions we make through such – hence their primary study in ‘mind’ was what we would call ‘normal’ or even ‘normative’ psychology: how we make judgments and decisions, and how we can make the best judgments and decisions. The Nominalists, who argued that reality was a cloud of divinely created individuals that could only be classed by concepts imposed by our limited) understanding, pretty much re-wrote the script, preparing the way for Modern concerns about logical modelling of a ‘reality’ we now struggle to ‘know.’

    Taking this side note to the East, I note that Buddhist philosophy also prefers psychology to epistemology, albeit for reasons different from those of the Medievals, and in a way that assumes Nominalist premises.

  17. Daniel Tippens

    Hi EJ,

    I just re-read this and wanted to let you know that I really appreciate that you wrote such an insightful and learned essay in response to mine. I think this may be one of the best essay-reply exchanges on EA