Immanence and transcendence again (Part 1): The universal God, nature and the philosopher

As Frankfort & Frankfort stated: “The ancient, like the modern savages, saw man always as part of society, and society as imbedded in nature and dependent upon cosmic forces. For them nature and man did not stand in opposition and did not, therefore, have to be apprehended by different modes of cognition.” [Henri Frankfort & H.A. Frankfort: Introduction. In: Henri Frankfort, H.A. Frankfort, John A. Wilson & Thorkild Jacobsen: Before Philosophy. A study of the primitive myths, beliefs, and speculations of Egypt and Mesopotamia, out of which grew the religions and philosophies of the later world.Middlesex: Penguin Books, 1954, pp. 11-38. Cited from page 12.] Therefore, while “for modern, scientific man the phenomenal world is primarily an ‘It’; for ancient – and also for primitive – man it is a ‘Thou’.” [ibid.] So the relation between nature and man traditionally was that of a Thou, but in the same way, nature was seen as the given creation of the entire cosmos in which we find all the cosmic forces. As such, if we go back to the dilemma of the question, whether God is immanent or transcendent, at first it seems to us that the old East Asian understanding of immanence makes more sense, because out of God the cosmos unfolds, and through connection with the cosmos, we make a wholesome unity. However, as stated before, we have to prefer the transcendent God as He is not immediately reachable for us. However, as we know from Philo, the cosmic forces are a medium in which God reveals Himself to us. And as I pointed out before, the soul is a connection between man and God. So man is in immediate interaction with nature, which is created by God, but the connection between man and God is done through the soul, though the revelation within nature deepens this connection of course, so we make a oneness on the spiritual level, not on the level of Being. Because man can never become God! Of course, nature is a manifestation of God’s will and as such though God and nature are not identical, the manifestation flows out of God as it unfolds: “All things are produced by the Dao, and nourished by its outflowing operation. They receive their forms according to the nature of each, and are completed according to the circumstances of their condition. Therefore all things without exception honour the Dao, and exalt its outflowing operation.” [Daodejing, Chapter 51, transl. Legge; orthography slightly modified.] In Chassidic Ontology, this formation is done through the different worlds: Assiya is the world of time and space and it is where human-beings live and where our reality lies. In Yetzira, there is no time and no space and unlike Assiya it is a completely spiritual dimension. According to Laibl Wolf, it is the world where form comes into being. [Laibl Wolf: The Sefirot of Relationship, Part 2 – Netzach, Hod and Yesod. Melbourne: Spiritgrow Josef Kryss Centre, 2012.] The next world, Beriya, is the world of creation. In this world, creation takes place and thus separation as in the sense of ‘bara’, as creation always means separating one thing out of the other. And if separation takes place in Beriya, then everything must still be a oneness in Atzilut. [see Timo Schmitz: The interaction of Judaism and Buddhism into Judeo-Buddhism (20 November 2019). In: Timo Schmitz: A Divinely Way to Philosophy, Vol. 2. Trier & Vachendorf: Graf Berthold Verlag, 2022.]

Another argument against the immanence of God can be found in Plato’s works, as Plato differentiates between ‘thinking’ and ‘becoming’. “In the Politeia, Plato introduces the Good as the highest principle which receives God-like qualities which then manifests itself in the idea of the Good (Politeia, 508e–509b). Thus, the Good cannot be grasped itself, as there are two different worlds and only the manifestation of the perfect thing in an imperfect state can be grasped.” [Timo Schmitz: Differences and commonalities between the first half of Plato’s Timaeus and the Sefer Yetzira on their cosmological accounts of the beginning (7 August 2018). In: Timo Schmitz: A Divinely Way to Philosophy, Vol. 1. Trier & Vachendorf: Graf Berthold Verlag, 2022.] In the Timaeus, 28 b-c, we learn that everything which is of “becoming” must have a cause, as it combines supposition (δόξα) with perception (αἴσθησις). [cp. ibid.] This is clear as well to us, because if everything unfolded out of God in a perfect way, then we all would be perfect and free from any mistake. As is stated in Genesis, God saw that the world was good, so His Creation is ki-tov, but not perfect, as perfection is a term reserved for God. This leads of course to the question which status the ideas have, because they are the perfect forms, but in no means they are gods. This is an extremely tricky question for me. As I stated in April 2022, I am still reflecting about who created the ideas and whether they were created at all or exist eternally. What is clear is that the ideal world is nature in itself: it contains the whole world through the ideas, while our perceptual world in contrast is just a copy. And as pointed out before on 7 November 2022, it seems wrong to say that God and the ideas are on the same stage as God is the first existence, so the ideas must come hereafter. However, consciousness is above matter.

A hypothetical solution would be a mesorealm, but this is not fully convincing as well, as the means to shape an Ideal into our image is the model. It is the reflection of an Idea by human-beings, where the model is something before us, but which also works through us. This means that everything which is possible to exist has an ideal state in the world of the ideas that is eternal, but our images about things change through the time and this certain image is the model. So there is a connection between immanence and transcendence, but is it really a mesorealm? Or is the transcendent realm itself divided into different parts? If so, these divisions can make spiritually a unity, as such a unity is the wholeness. Daoists admit that the Dao is wholeness and nothingness. And human-beings are able to share part of this great enlightenment: “To him who holds in his hands the Great Image (of the invisible Dao), the whole world repairs. […] The Dao in its regular course does nothing (for the sake of doing it), and so there is nothing which it does not do.” [Daodejing, Chapter 35 & 37, transl. Legge; orthography slightly modified.] Enlightenment is a purification in my point of view, and as such a repairment of the world, tikkun olam, in a Lurianic sense.

So to put it in a nutshell, we can say that “καὶ τὰ μὲν δὴ ὁρᾶσθαί φαμεν, νοεῖσθαι δ’οὔ, τὰς δ’αὖ ἰδέας νοεῖσθαι μέν, ὁρᾶσθαι δ’οὔ.” (Politeia, 507b) We now want to explain the manifestation in this world. So let’s recall different schools of thought first.

The Sefer Yetzira for instance explains that the three basic creations which are numbers, letters, and sound unfold through language, and thus can all be found in the alphabet. Of course, this leads to a lot of problems, because the system is based on the Hebrew alphabet and we would have to ask each other whether it also works for other languages, and one language in which this system fails is enough to say that language does not equal creation. Of course, one could now answer that this only goes to the Hebrew alphabet as it is the holy language, but then we still have to ask why the Hebrew language should be preferred over the others? What makes Hebrew holier than others? And yet, the Sefer Yetzira also leads to other questions, e.g. if water and fire were created independently of the letters as stated in the book, then why do we need the letters to emanate existence? So we are caught with a lot of troubles here which remain unsolvable. However, we can build a class logic upon the system of Semitic languages: Each word has a root and related words share the root, for instance the root כ-ת-ב includes things which have to do with writing. Words which belong to this root include the verb ‘to write’ לִכְתּוֺב, the feminine noun ‘dictation’ הַכְתָּבָה, the masculine noun for ‘script’ or a ‘writing’ כְּתָב, a reporter or journalist כַּתָּב, the verb ‘engrave’ לְכַתֵּב, the noun ‘correspondence’ and its verb ‘to correspond’, an address כְּתוֹבֶת, the adjective ‘written’ כָּתוּב, and many others such as article, letter, message, etc. Since they all include the same root, we can group them in one class. The whole Hebrew language can be classified and through intersections of classes, language is built. [Timo Schmitz: Ontological positions proposed by the Sefer Yetzira and the possibility to see Class Logic as actual reality based on its view (11 December 2020). In: Timo Schmitz: A Divinely Way to Philosophy, Vol. 2. Trier & Vachendorf: Graf Berthold Verlag, 2022.] For instance, possibly all verbs that have directly to do with writing might be found in the class of the root for writing (k-t-b) as well as in the class of (all) verbs. Each verb hides information: if a verb starts with a heh followed by a chereq-yod, it is most likely a hifil form and thus causative so grammar causes predication; next, one identifies the root and might find its meaning, so the hifil of k-t-b is ‘to dictate’ [ibid.]; but we cannot go so far to say that the letters contain information on existence itself, though the Sefer Yetzira suggests that they are the potential to become and the information unfolds and creates existence when coming together with the sefirot, due to the troubles mentioned before. So language is arbitrarily, yet the words contain terms, which we can communicate through different words in the different languages. God cannot be explained with common language, though we can try to describe different qualities of God.

But truth itself neither lies in the language nor in a particular thing, the latter was explained above. Even further, language is one of the reasons, leading to idols (prejudices) according to Francis Bacon. How can idols be corrected? They can be corrected with dianoia – understanding. And according to Proclus, one can only gain understanding with the study of relationships. But it is also clear that understanding is limited and therefore idols still exist – despite correcting them, one cannot fully fight them. [Timo Schmitz: Relation et Formation: Rien n’existe indépendant dans ce monde (14 August 2018). In: Timo Schmitz: Sélection d’articles en français, 2014-2020. Berlin: epubli, 2021.] In addition, we cannot describe reality though we can talk about our experiences, but language can’t really express reality. Spirituality is an attempt to find reality – the direct connection between the Divine and us. [Timo Schmitz: Le besoin d’une purification de l’âme (25 Agust 2018). In: Timo Schmitz: Sélection d’articles en français, 2014-2020. Berlin: epubli, 2021.]

So how does the Creation become manifest? In Chassidism, chochma is the potential to become and therefore the first stage of existence, though this existence is not real but only potential. Bina in contrast is the principle of form. And so, existence becomes real when matter and form make a relation (as in Aristotle). But Plato already proposed that the forms do not exist for themselves. So it all starts with the Good, which is God, in Platonism or the ein sof, an unlimited point, in Judaism. But both are actually the same, as it does not matter how we call God. Substance is formed from chaos, non-existence forms existence, wind is used to begin forming and existence itself is cyclic. This is why Jŭngsanists believe in cosmic seasons, the Earth starts to blossom, a cosmic spring, but after some time, the world has to refresh itself, leading to a cosmic winter. As the Daodejing, Chapter 55 [transl. Legge; orthography slightly modified.] writes: “To him by whom this harmony is known, (The secret of) the unchanging (Dao) is shown, And in the knowledge wisdom finds its throne.” There are also two very interesting phrases in the Dojeon: “When the time comes, the climate will become mild and there will be no difference between the four seasons. People will have no disease and there will be no greed, anger, foolishness, or harshness. The human mind will be in harmony, and it will come to pass that all people will be of one will. People on earth will live well and there will be no discrimination. Their lives will be very long and free of disease.” [Dojeon 1,2,9] Second “In the East, in Daoism, dao is known as ‘what is so of itself.’ Dao is the origin of life and the path by which heaven, earth, and humanity change. And the God ruling over dao has been called Jeh or Sahng-jeh. […] Dao is itself the root of all life in heaven and earth, existing even before the beginning of heaven and earth. It sanctified Jeh and the spirits in heaven, and gave birth to heaven and earth. Dao existed before Tae-geuk, yet it does not wish to rise above Tae-geuk.” [Dojeon 1,4,1 & 1,4,4] Actually, this is a syncretization of Confucianism and Daoism, in which the Confucian Shangdi is placed above the Dao as personal God, because the Dao is impersonal. But I think, the Dao itself is already the Highest, though God is not passive, impersonal. Yet, we cannot describe God through language as pointed out above, and therefore, God is something/ someone dynamic, in constant movement, and as such classifying Him as “object” to change does not seem unreasonably. But wait, according to Plato, the Divine is characterized by its unchanging nature, while change is part of becoming. So here, the Dojeon seemingly has a point by discriminating between an active part and a passive part, the latter one being that which is itself so. But placing another god over a divinely principle does not satisfy me. So what does the Bible say about a dynamic nature of God? Malachi 3:6 states: “For I am the LORD, I change not; therefore ye sons of Jacob are not consumed.” [KJV] And Numbers 23:19 explains: “God is not a man, that he should lie; neither the son of man, that he should repent: hath he said, and shall he not do it? or hath he spoken, and shall he not make it good?” [KJV] The ESV uses the term “change his mind” instead of “repent” here. So on the one hand, God is drawn as someone static here. Galatians 5:22-23 writes: “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.” [NIV] These are of course all kind of attributes which are lasting. God is not gentle on one day, and angry on another. God can only always be brought together with love, but never with hate. So just because the attributes of God are unchangeable, this does not mean that God Himself cannot be dynamic, because He is absoluteness. So is the Law of Non-Contradiction even applicable on God? Can’t He be Change and Unchangable at the same time? That would be quite a paradox. Yet, the descriptions of the Dao are known for its paradoxes. Wuji is striving for Taiji, Taiji is striving for Wuji, we are in a world of cosmic forces. We live in a world full of dualisms, yet non-dualism means “oneness”, “unity”, and as such a perfect harmony. And our universe is so well ordered, nature is harmony! Anyways, it is not perfect in the sense of the divine, so here the snake literally bites itself in the tail. We have an Ouroboros situation!

One might ask now, whether this does not sound like esoterical humbug to take different texts of religious nature and to claim to collect some “truths” out of them. We can quickly reject this concern. As philosophy is a service for God, of course, we can take religious texts and try to extract their philosophical content out of them. Religion and philosophy were always very closely related. Of course, we should always place reason over revelation and ought not take literal any text which claims to be an immediate revelation of a divine being, but we can take these texts and analyze their philosophical content. And through analyzing the philosophical content, we can see the different positions, influences and streams, and compare the statements with our experience, intuition and imagination. So I think that it is a legit method. And even further, to be able to answer our question, we have to take more thoughts into account to see whether the paradigms are compatible, whether there is something, such as “universal knowledge” (as we take a universal God as premise).

Zhuangzi writes in Chapter 5: “‘Life and Death,’ replied Confucius, ‘existence and non-existence, success and non-success, poverty and wealth, virtue and vice, good and evil report, hunger and thirst, warmth and cold,—these all revolve upon the changing wheel of Destiny. Day and night they follow one upon the other, and no man can say where each one begins. Therefore they cannot be allowed to disturb the harmony of the organism, nor enter into the soul’s domain. Swim however with the tide, so as not to offend others. Do this day by day without break, and live in peace with mankind. Thus you will be ready for all contingencies, and may be said to have your talents perfect.’ ‘And virtue without outward form; what is that?’ ‘In a water-level,’ said Confucius, ‘the water is in a most perfect state of repose. Let that be your model. The water remains quietly within, and does not overflow. It is from the cultivation of such harmony that virtue results. And if virtue takes no outward form, man will not be able to keep aloof from it.’” [transl. Giles, 1889] And in Chapter 6, he states: “The pure men of old did not know what it was to love life or to hate death. They did not rejoice in birth, nor strive to put off dissolution. Quickly come, and quickly go;—no more. They did not forget whence it was they had sprung, neither did they seek to hasten their return thither. Cheerfully they played their allotted parts, waiting patiently for the end. This is what is called not to lead the heart astray from Dao, nor to let the human seek to supplement the divine. And this is what is meant by a pure man. […] They are in harmony with all creation, and none know the limit thereof.” [transl. Giles, 1889; orthography slightly modified]. This passage actually reminds us of the Socratic Knowledge of Non-Knowledge (οἶδα οὐκ εἰδώς; taken from Plato’s Apology 22a: ἐγὼ δέ, ὥσπερ οὖν οὐκ οἶδα, οὐδὲ οἴμαι). The perfect harmony is to know that God is perfection, while man is not: man can never become God or God-like. Though we strive of becoming like God, we will never achieve this kind of state, and thus, never ever dare to try to place us above God. The pure man for Zhuangzi is such a man who understands that divinity is not for humans, it is wrong for us to “play” being God, as it is a kind of disharmony. So Plato and Zhuangzi have the same ideal on philosophy: to show to the people that they ought not to pretend to know what they do not know, but become humble and uncover true knowledge after giving up their pride, as those in the Apology who had most pride and thought of themselves in highest esteem were the ones with the least wisdom. By the way, it should not surprise us, because Plato and Zhuangzi both grew up in times of war, and the war time left an impression on them.

Next, I want to integrate, whether we can also find such ideas in African thought. I want to introduce first how Placide Tempels described it, but of course when we hear his wording, we always have to be aware that he was a ‘child of his time’: “For primitive peoples the highest wisdom consists in recognizing a unity in the order of beings in the universe, from which they do not idiotically exclude a priori the spiritual world. Their whole ontology which can be systematised around the fundamental idea of ‘vital force’ and the associated ideas of growth, influence and vital hierarchy, reveals the world as a plurality of coordinated forces. This world order is the essential condition of wholeness in human beings. The Bantu add that this order comes from God and that it must be reverenced.” [Placide Tempels: Bantu Philosophy. Paris: Présence Africaine, 1959, p. 78] In Tempels’ description, we also find a dynamic God who brings forth an order and installs everything in unity. The Bantu have a harmony based on cosmical forces and their interaction, and force to them always means “life”. Of course, we have to limit this to the people which Tempels observed, since the Bantu are very heterogenous and it would be too easy to simplify them as one. Tempels also explains that “anyone to-day can easily verify for himself that our living Bantu say, speaking of ancestor-worship, animism, etc. ‘all that is willed by God, the Supreme Being, and it has all been given to help us men’.” [Tempels, 1959: 24] So same as philosophy in Europe and Asia, African philosophy also turned around God: everything is willed by God. So indeed God is universal. And it is wrong to speak of African history and philosophy as ‘primitive’ or ‘heathen’, such as Hegel did who neglected that Africans contributed to the history of philosophy. [cp. Théophile Obenga: Egypt: Ancient History of African Philosophy. In: Kwasi Wiredu et al.: A Companion to African Philosophy. Oxford: Blackwell Publishing, 2004, 31-49.] Actually, Africa has a rich tradition of philosophy. I stumbled over an interesting phrase in a paper by Jean-Marie Apovo: “Moreover, one cannot make the Bo if one is oneself an atheist: it is God, Creator of all creatures, who gives efficiency to the Bo and the one who is called BOLOME (in the hands of the Bo) recognizes himself implicitly in the hands of God, because God being source of everything is also source of Bo as He is source, Creator of life (MAHUGBEDOTO) in Fon.” [Jean-Marie C. Apovo: Anthropologie du Bo (Théorie et Pratique du gris-gris)., retrieved on 22 December 2017. (translation mine)] This Beninese concept which is analysed on an anthropological-philosophical view shows the traditional devotion. And it is the same devotion as could be found in Europe, the Middle East, India or China. Ancient man could never be an Atheist, even if he did not believe in organized religion, he had a longing for God. For the Beninese, the traditional world outlook was as following: “Located thus in the universe contrary to what one says, the black man is neither an atheist, nor a polytheist, he believes in a Supreme God, Infallible, Master of the universe (MAHUGBEDOTO). This almighty God has created, thanks to his infinite intelligence, the universe with its rules operating in the smallest details and irreversibly. He entrusted to each thing its function according to a hierarchy in which He is the top and man the base.” [ibid.] And same as we realized that the whole world always had views on the very God, we have to realize that Europe was not the very center of science. We know very well that China and India had a lot of great Ancient scientists as well, and we could also find them in the Middle East. And of course, Africa is no exception: “Thus, even the reputedly most backward populations of Africa cannot be considered unscientific. Among the pygmies, in fact, there is, for example, a good knowledge of the forest environment and the pharmaco-medical properties of various plants.” [Nsame Mbongo: La philosophie classique africaine: Contre-Histoire de la philosophie, tomé 1. Paris : L’Harmattan, 2013, p. 58. (translation mine).]

Finally, I want to come to a conclusion. We could see very well in my essay that recurring back to God and His order is not unscientific per se, but an important quest. As Mbongo explained very well: “[P]hilosophy as such can speak of God on rational grounds. For example, by trying to demonstrate, although logically vainly, that he exists or that he is perfect, or that he is the first intelligible and spiritual mover. The technique used is then reasonability-rationality and we are well in philosophy, and more precisely in metaphysics. This only gives way to mythology proper or to theology when the concern for right practice and rigorous reasoning (reasonability-rationality) is bracketed and replaced by the concern for the manufacture of dogmatic legends by theolosophy” [Mbongo, 2013: 51 (translation mine)] God is an object of philosophy and it is even the root of philosophy: gaining knowledge not on dogmatism, but on reasoning about God’s Creation! Despite the many different religious traditions from Daoism to Korean new religious movements, and philosophical traditions, such as Platonism, Chassidic Ontology, and Ethnophilosophy, we can clearly see that God is put above everything as a first cause. He is always thought in a dynamic way: All kind of intellect and force is going back to Him. On the other hand, especially in Platonism and partly in the Bible, God however rather seems static (by the way, the very extreme of it can be found in Aristotle’s thought of God). This contradiction was solved in Jeungsando by placing the Heavenly Lord (Shangdi) over the cosmic monist principle (Dao). In this way, God Himself is not object to change, and yet the changes of the world are explained without being independent, but dependent on the Divine. Yet, this did not fully convince me. Instead, I think that God’s existence and His attributes are everlasting, they are not object to change; yet God Himself is not unmovable, static, ‘dead’, but dynamic and alive. Though this creates a paradoxon, it can be explained by realizing that all dualisms vanish in God’s unity, so dualisms such as male – female, static – dynamic, etc. do not exist anymore when we talk of God. And even in this world, many things which seem dualistic to us are actually cyclic and we can find stages within, the μεταξύ. Evil for instance is the absence of good, and thus we only know evil because we can know what is good. Anyways, there is no metaphysical evil! Finally, God is transcendent and lives in His own realm, but He has an influence on the immanent world. Thus, despite being in His own realm, He unfolds His creation out of His very oneness, and all parts of this world go back to Him. Taking this as ground, we can talk of the role of the ideas which are an important part in making the Creation manifest in this world another time. What can be said for now is that the ideas are the perfect form and perfection is reserved for the divine, so they seem to reside in the Divine realm, yet, they are no gods.

Timo Schmitz, 14 November 2022


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