On Divine and Human Agency: Part 6, A Bad Habit and Forgetting Gratitude and Praise

My hunch is that many readers will find, or have been finding, all the metaphysical abstractions of this series a bit much. Personally, I love this sort of thing.

But to remind us of the goal, why I'm slowly gathering up notes from Kathryn Tanner's book God and Creation in Christian Theology, is to help us push back on a bad habit in talking about God and creaturely causality. 

This bad habit has been to declare, when we discover "X causes Y" in some science lab, that God has been evacuated from that location. The metaphysics we've inherited from the Enlightenment is contrastive. That is, if we discover a material cause God is "not there." So, wherever science "advances" God has to "retreat."

But such contrastive assumptions violate Tanner's rules, the grammar of God's transcendence.  Recall Rule #1, "avoid a simple contrast of divine and non-divine predicates." And Rule #2, "Avoid in talk about God's creative agency all suggestions of limitation of scope or manner." An Enlightenment-style metaphysics breaks both these rules by pitting creaturely causality against God's agency while also limiting God's agency by saying God is "not" active in "X causes Y." 

Swinging back to my series on January, in trying to connect metaphysics to mental health, Tanner's non-contrastive metaphysics and her rules help us avoid the bad habits of Enlightenment-style assumptions when speaking of mental health, where God and therapeutic science are routinely pitted against each other. There's this deistic assumption that if you take your medication or go to therapy that God isn't present and active in those technologies. To my mind, as a psychologist, this deism is the biggest temptation from my side of the debate. 

But there is also a temptation from the other side, assuming that if I take creaturely action in my pursuit of mental health that I'm "turning my back on God," rejecting the offer of God's power in my healing. We're back to choosing between medication versus miracles. But again, it's not an either/or. As Tanner observes,

[We should not assume] that created causes simply take their marching orders from God. The all-encompassing creative agency of God directly founds and sustains a created being in power, operations and actual productions of created effects. Created beings are the executors of the order of the world for the world that God ordains but only as God's creative agency is at work every step of the way by which such an order is produced. 

Summarizing, created agents possess "powers" and "operations" which allow us to be causal actors ("executors") within "the order of the world." But as the Ground of Being, none of that action takes place independently of God. You can take your medications and go to therapy but God remains the ground of your being and your mental health. 

Now, in many ways, all of this is simply a fancy way of saying what Paul declares in his sermon on Mars Hill, that in God "we live, move and have our being." We can confess that truth. And yet, it's also true that as creaturely powers get highlighted and spotlighted we are tempted to forget God. As our technological prowess expands we become practicing deists, and come to see domains like mental health in deistic terms, as evacuated of the divine Presence. We forget gratitude and praise. We begin to take and give credit to the created causes and forget the Ground of that causality. Borrowing from the last post, our attention becomes wholly focused on the horizontal, material frame and becomes forgetful of the vertical. Charles Taylor calls this narrowed attention the "immanent frame," a focus on material reality to the exclusion of the metaphysical. Phrased differently, our view of mental health become disenchanted. We take our medication and are thankful to the scientists and the drug companies but that gratitude never makes the turn toward God. Because if the scientist discovered the drug God didn't do anything. We're back to a contrastive metaphysics where God and drug companies are competitors within the same order of being.

So for those who have been lost in the metaphysical maze of these posts, here's a practical thing to hang you hat on. How have deistic assumptions, bad habits of contrastive metaphysics, affected your ability to offer God gratitude and praise? For a poverty of gratitude and praise is a symptom of bad metaphysics.

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