Eastertide II


Traditionally Eastertide extends from Easter to Pentecost. In the former installation the cause for celebration was Jesus Christ. Now is the time to say a few words about Pentecost, which marks and celebrates the descent of the Holy Spirit on the disciples.

The Holy Spirit is the third and most obscure constituent of the Trinity besides the Father and the Son. Yet it is also the most tangible, acting out its blessed influence at every time and every place, if not in every mind.

The Holy Spirit can be understood as shorthand for our deepest moral imperatives – the responsibility for our family and our neighbor and our community, the search for truth and for God. The Holy Spirit is a gift from heaven, an antidote to depression and despair, signifying hope, faith and love.

In the eyes of Jews and Muslims, Christianity is compromised as a monotheistic religion because God has been eclipsed by the Trinity. The Church fathers retorted that the Son and the Helper act as mediators, because frail humans cannot confront God eye to eye. Catholics and Orthodox have gone one better by introducing St. Mary and a host of saints as additional intercessors. In any case God remains the ultimate enigma, the final point of our faith and our doubt.

To try to talk about God is presumptuous. According to ancient superstition, naming God was dangerous, evoking magical powers. The same respect was applied to the forces of evil – the devil and his consorts as well as an assortment of wild beasts. People were resorting to numerous euphemisms to minimize the exposure to the threats of the unknown. Anyhow I will take the plunge.

God as infinity

In my book The Spirit of the Game (1993) I have devoted considerable space to wrestling with God. I even maintain that, through the ages, great scientists have ultimately been motivated by this passion. Let me introduce a short section from the book which touches infinity.

“Great thinkers have consistently associated trans­cendental reality with elusive immensity. Hegel and Schleiermacher described man as the pro­jec­tion of infinity in a finite world, whereas Ludwig Feuerbach (1804–72) reversed the argument and reduced God to the human perspec­tive of infinity.

The square root of -1, designated i, long carried metaphysical connotations. Nowadays God can conveniently be identified with the Greek letter Ω, the mathematical sign for an absolute infinity beyond all infinities. The reflection principle of trans­finite mathematics tells us that any attribute or property we would like to use in describing Ω will always refer to a smaller cardinality. God is unnamable, He is that He is.

St. Augustine declared that God is both immanent and transcendent in relation to the world. This panentheistic notion has been part and parcel of Indian religious thought, and can be traced back at least to the Upanishad epics (from around 1000 B.C.). It still exerts great attraction and elegantly explains why the ultimate frame of reference – the infinity of truth – is beyond the reach of our finite Faus­tian reason. The world is comprehended as the self-simulation of God, implying His presence both inside and outside of His creation. In any case, God seems to have left His mark on the universe in momentous asymmetries, thus creating a crack in its de­terminate foundations and preparing the ground for human consciousness and freedom of play.”

I have little to add today – just a few reflections on the nature of scientific knowledge.

Many scientists refer to the tremendous increase of knowledge as proof for our decreasing need of God. The inaptly named physical Theory of Everything (TOE) is a sign of this myopic arrogance. I am all for pushing ahead the frontiers of knowledge and to get rid of superstition. This is a key element in the human mission, independent of religious orthodoxy. (I include atheism in the bestiary). But the decline of God is a non sequitur to put it politely.

Any finite, comprehensible, definable and achievable deity is an idol. In modern times terrible ideologies have served this function, swiftly filling the voids left by the death of God in the minds of men. God is by definition infinite and incomprehensible. Thus we cannot understand God but we can partake in him. In every scientific advance we enrich ourselves by consuming God. But God Almighty is not diminished, infinity remains infinite whatever amount you subtract from it.

The old Greeks maintained that infinity cannot exist in this world and took no interest in it. Modern mathematics has come to grips with a hierarchy of infinities but in cosmology the concept remains contentious. As very limited humans we can only live by our faith and our doubt. But we can hope that a godsend Helper is always at hand.