Let’s plunge into today’s reflection via a quote from Our Fearless Final Guru:
“In his Critique of Pure Reason Kant argues that pure reason cannot give us answers to questions regarding such metaphysical questions as the existence of God, because pure reason can be used to justify various opposing positions. It’s not that we can’t make claims about ultimate reality using pure reason, but the opposite problem: we are lead to different, mutually exclusive claims. The name he gave to the mutually contradictory results of applying pure reason were ‘antinomies’.”–Dr. Peter Rollins,
Atheism for Lent,
Confession: the first time I read/hear the word “antinomy,” I thought it meant the mineral, antimony. *eyeroll*
Antinomy means a contradiction between two beliefs that, in and of themselves, are reasonable. It’s a sort of paradox, like saying, “There are no absolute truths.” Maybe absolute truths really don’t exit — but stating that they don’t constitutes an absolute. This is the part where we throw back our heads and laugh. Or cry. YMMV
“Antinomy” arrives in English by way of Latin, originating in Ancient Greek:
ἀντι– (anti-, “against”) + νόμος (nómos, “custom, usage; law, ordinance”)
which tells me Kant was all about doing the illegal stuff.
On the other hand, I might be reading into it a little.
Anywhat, Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason does exactly what the title indicates: by way of these “antinomies,” he critiques the idea that we can understand the essence of reality solely through reason — because reason can be used to “prove” all sorts of contradictory positions. Each of his four antinomies presents a thesis (an argument from reason) and an antithesis (equally an argument from reason). I’ll try to express them in my words:
- Antinomy of Space and Time (Did the universe have a beginning?)
Thesis: The universe had a beginning point, and the universe is limited.
Antithesis: The universe had no beginning point, and it is not limited in its size or expansion.
- Antinomy of Atomism (Do objects consist of indivisible atoms?)
Thesis: You can break down anything in the universe to the simplest possible parts, and those simplest possible parts can’t be broken down any farther.
Antithesis: Nothing in the universe is composed of anything simple.
- Antinomy of Spontaneity and Causal Determinism (Does free will exist?)
Thesis: Everything in the universe is an effect that had a cause; follow it back far enough, and you come to a Causer with no Cause, a Causer that originated everything and came into existence spontaneously.
Antithesis: Nothing comes into existence spontaneously; everything in the universe obeys the laws of nature.
- Antinomy of Necessary Being Or Not (Does God exist?)
Thesis: A being that is absolutely necessary has to be part of the universe or has to have caused it..
Antithesis: Ain’t no such thang.
Just for the record, at this point in this post, I have already had to correct “antimony” to “antinomy” five different times, and I have probably missed some and will likely miss more as we go on. I elect to blame N.K. Jemisin with her fascinating, super-well-written Broken Earth series, which features an especially creepy character named Antimony who’s been living rent-free in my head for a couple years now.
Back to Kant. He contends that if you’re going to believe in God, you’re going to have to do it by faith and hope. There are no reasonable, rational arguments to prove God’s existence for you. You just have to have faith that God is out there (or in here) and rest on your “conviction of things unseen” (Hebrews 11).
From this angle, Kant’s position wholly adheres to scripture, and it dovetails with what I was always taught: “the beauty of believing in God is that we can’t prove it; if we could prove it, it wouldn’t be faith; if we could prove it, it would be evidence-based and we wouldn’t have a choice whether or not to believe.”
And yet, we have apologetics, reasoned arguments that attempt to justify belief in God. And yet, we have churches and Christian institutions of higher education training young minds in how to argue rationally for their faith, how to “give a ready answer” (1 Peter 3). My mentors in Christianity might have paid lip service to a wholly faith-based relationship with God, but they certainly didn’t practice what they prought; the search for better “proofs” never ever stopped. I even heard one evangelist say in frustration, “There must be an argument or a series of arguments, a series of right words, that would convince anybody of God’s existence.” And I learned to follow the apologists’ example. Anybody ever hear of Lee Strobel?
But, as Kant points out, reason can lead us in very different, often opposing directions. Long story short, I got to the point of feeling like every apologetic treatise was a case of preaching to the choir instead of trying to reach unbelievers. I was a missionary, and I was immersed in the apologetics world, unable to see the human drops for the ocean of what I thought was evidence.
It took a lot of heartbreak, therapy for my own lack of boundaries, and reawakening of compassion for the human element to show me:
My “search for absolutes” (thank you, Paul Tillich) was really just my desperate attempt to quash the deepening doubts I’d been hauling around with me my entire life.
In the face of science, how can God be real? (Well, here’s why a Creator must exist….)
Humans do such awful things to each other, so how can a loving God be real? (Well, here’s free will….)
People are in terrific pain, living through horrific suffering, so how can a loving God be real? (Well, here’s Jesus….)
Women are just as talented and intelligent as men, so why can’t women take public leadership roles? (Well, here’s Adam and Eve / here’s sociological differences between men and women / here’s Paul….)
Jesus took care of the poor and oppressed, especially those on the fringe of society, so how can we, his disciples, spend $$$$$ on an air conditioner or actively harm LGBTQIA individuals? (Well, here’s our need for a central place of worship, and here’s the word “abomination”….)
Jesus teaches us to oppose greed, empire, and fascism, so how can any of us be voting for policies and lawmakers that bail out billionaires and corporations while actively harming every group that’s not straight and white? (Well, here’s “the economy” and “good stewardship”….)
Eventually, none of the traditional answers worked for me anymore. They were too glib, too ignorant, too cruel. Too EASY. None of them required me or any of the Christians around me to change. None of them required us to grow. None of these easy answers induced transformation, which is what the Christian world told me was the best part of following Jesus.
I feel in my bones and in the core of me that I have transformed more deeply since leaving the church and questioning everything I was taught about “God” than I ever did while I was still a member of the club. Now I’m out beyond the curb, out where there’s weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth, and it’s the first time in my life that I’ve felt like I’m becoming the person I always had potential to be.
This becoming is a process that never ends. It’s going to take me the rest of my life — and when I die, I will not have finished. And that is only right.