In considering how to address the issue of theology, specifically the “third grade god,” it occurred to me to share an excerpt from William of Rubruck’s account of a religious debate he participated in between Christians, Muslims (referred to in this translation as “Saracens”), and Buddhists (referred to as “Tuins”) held in the court of Mongke Khan (referred to as “Mangu Chan”), brother and predecessor of Kublai Khan:
So I said to the Tuin: “We believe firmly in our hearts and we confess with our mouths that God is, and that there is only one God, one in perfect unity. What do you believe?” He said : “Fools say that there is only one God, but the wise say that there are many. Are there not great lords in your country, and is not this Mangu Chan a greater lord? So it is of them, for they are different in different regions.”
I said to him: “You choose a poor example, in which there is no comparison between man and God; according to that, every mighty man can call himself god in his own country.” And as I was about to destroy the comparison, he interrupted me, asking: “Of what nature is your God, of whom you say that there is none other?” I replied: “Our God, besides whom there is none other, is omnipotent, and therefore requires the aid of none other, while all of us require His aid. It is not thus with man. No man can do everything, and so there must be several lords in the world, for no one can do all things. So likewise He knows all things, and therefore requires no councilor, for all wisdom comes of Him. Likewise, He is the supreme good, and wants not of our goods. But we live, move, and are in Him. Such is our God, and one must not consider Him otherwise.”
“It is not so,” he replied. “Though there is one (God) in the sky who is above all others, and of whose origin we are still ignorant, there are ten others under him, and under these latter is another lower one. On the earth they are in infinite number.” And as he wanted to spin (texere) some other yarns, I asked him of this highest god, whether he believed he was omnipotent, or whether (he believed this) of some other god. Fearing to answer, he asked: “If your God is as you say, why does he make the half of things evil?” “That is not true,” I said. ” He who makes evil is not God. All things that are, are good.”
At this all the Tuins were astonished, and they wrote it down as false or impossible. Then he asked: “Whence then comes evil?” “You put your question badly,” I said. “You should in the first place inquire what is evil, before you ask whence it comes. But let us go back to the first question, whether you believe that any god is omnipotent; after that I will answer all you may wish to ask me.”
He sat for a long time without replying, so that it became necessary for the secretaries who were listening on the part of the Chan to tell him to reply. Finally he answered that no god was omnipotent. With that the Saracens burst out into a loud laugh. When silence was restored, I said: “Then no one of your gods can save you from every peril, for occasions may arise in which he has no power. Furthermore, no one can serve two masters: how can you serve so many gods in heaven and earth?” The audience told him to answer, but he remained speechless. And as I wanted to explain the unity of the divine essence and the Trinity to the whole audience, the Nestorians of the country said to me that it sufficed, for they wanted to talk. I gave in to them, but when they wanted to argue with the Saracens, they [the Saracens] answered them: “We concede your religion is true, and that everything is true that is in the Gospel: so we do not want to argue any point with you.” And they confessed that in all their prayers they besought God to grant them to die as Christians die.
There was present there an old priest of the Iugurs, who say there is one god, though they make idols; they (i.e., the Nestorians) spoke at great length with him, telling him of all things down to the coming of the Antichrist into the world [J: the coming of Christ in judgement], and by comparisons demonstrating the Trinity to him and the Saracens. They all listened without making any contradiction, but no one said: “I believe; I want to become a Christian.” When this was over, the Nestorians as well as the Saracens sang with a loud voice; while the Tuins kept silence, and after that they all [J: everyone] drank deeply.
I hope my saying this isn’t too mean or too presumptive, I have not read the man’s book, but as presented in the show, many of Mr. Kelly’s ideas should have the limits of their use stated clearly, or else the conclusions reached begin sounding silly.
I hope I don’t in turn sound too silly explaining myself, although I know my opening sentence will sound very new age: The universe can be understood to be a seamless whole, from beginning to end, in every dimension including time. I am not saying reality is in some abstract way uniform, all I intend to say is one can see that seeing something as a distinct, whether it be what would be understood of as an object or a concept, could be seen as ‘dividing’ it from the rest of reality. (I use the word “can” and “could” with intention, not doubt.)
A different way of illustrating the same idea is to use the concept of grouping basic units. Category is just division from a different perspective, and I use the words interchangeably. The reason I tend use the explanation I use, even though this bottom-up approach seems more intuitive to the people I talk to is because there is a limit on how inclusive a category can be, but one can always further divide. Greek atomists contended that atoms were indivisible, their critics answered you could divide into left and right. Atomists responded by claiming atoms were dimensionless, their critics questioned how something with dimensions could be made of something without.
The divisions we make are usually based on their usefulness. We do not have a word for the left half of a potato plus whatever is an inch above it* because, honestly, when would we would ever have the opportunity to use it? But it’s, and here is where I connect this back to the original topic, is important to recognize that that is all that is happening, it’s important not to attribute more qualities to concepts than they actually have. And my feeling is this is what is being done.
We can refer to a more abstract continuum of organic life, information, and artificial material technology as technology or the technium, we can refer to the contents of our genetic code as information, it can at times be useful to do so. But if what is being said is “this is what technology is,” “this is what information is,” as if there is a correct scope to one’s category, then there is a misunderstanding of the relationship between signifier and signified; no category is necessary, only useful. The technium isn’t a whole so much as it has been made a whole (this is true of every concept, it isn’t a slight against Mr. Kelly).
I do think there is use in the idea that technologies have bias, both specific technologies and a larger conception of technology no matter the scope of the definition of that conception, but is it right to call it inherent in the technology itself, instead of our relationship with it? I will say it’s useful as a kind of shorthand to say technology has an agenda, but I can’t agree if what is being said is literally true. (I also will say I disagree with those who say “the only goal of life, in evolutionary terms, is reproduction.” The word “goal” in this case seems to be a metaphor that is forgotten to be a metaphor.)
I will look into this more, I know I have been dismissive without even hearing the argument out. I am always looking to learn to utilize new perspectives, and this one could prove to be useful if I actually look into it and try to understand in detail.
*Were we to, it would be called a portato.