The Religious A priori

Rational Warrant for Belief


The concept of the Ground of Being.

Links to more pages on being
Modes of being
What is theGround of Being?
Defining God Into Existence?
Can Being itself be Personal?

We tend to think of God as a big man with a beard, or some sort of powerful "person" like a human being, although one who can do amazing things. This is just the childish version, it is conditioned in our thinking by a pedestrian approach to religion.

There are religions that don't have a "God" per se, such as Buddhism. Essentially, there is no reason to think of God as a person, certainly not one with a corporeal body. That image, which is hinted at in the Bible, is merely metaphor. Depending upon the religious tradition, however, one can have very abstract views of God which have nothing to do with a father figure or a mother figure.

There is a more abstract way to think about God: that is "Transcendental Signifier;" the notion of a metaphysical first principle that organizes everything into a metaphysical hierarchy. This is the more sophisticated view of God, and most of the works of the great Christian philosophers hint at notions of God in these abstract terms.

Anselm defined God as "that which nothing greater than can be conceived." He ended all of his arguments by saying "this thing we call God," as a means of keeping the exact nature of God open-ended. This is because God is beyond our understanding, as the Bible says, but we can leave a "place marker" for the concept of God by understanding that the ultimate logical function of the God concept is that of the transcendental signifier.

Ground of Being

One of the sophisticated concepts used by great Christian theologians is that of "The Ground of Being." This concept indicates not that God is the fact of things existing, but that God is the basis for the existence of all things. God is more fundamental to existing things than anything else. So fundamental to the existence of all things is God, that God can be thought of as the basis upon which things exist, the ground their being. To say that God is The ground of being or being itself, is to say that there is something we can sense that is so special about the nature of being that it hints at this fundamental reality upon which all else is based.

The phrases "Ground of Being" and "Being itself" are basically the same concept. Tillich used both at different times, and other theologians such as John McQuarrey prefer "Being Itself," but they really speak to the same concept. Now skeptics are always asking "how can god be being?" I think this question comes from the fact that the term is misleading. The term "Being itself" gives one the impression that God is the actual fact of "my existence," or the existence of my flowerbed, or any object one might care to name. Paul Tillich, on the other hand, said explicitly (in Systematic Theology Vol. I) that this does not refer to an existential fact but to an ontological status. What is being said is not that God is the fact of the being of some particular object, but, that he is the basis upon which being proceeds and upon which objects participate in being. In other words, since God exists forever, nothing else can come to be without God's will or thought; and since there can't even be a potential for any being without God's thought, all potentialities for being arise in the "mind of God" then in that sense God is actually "Being Itself." I think "Ground of Being" is a less confusing term. God is the ground upon which all being is based and from which all being proceeds.

Two sesnes and they are both related:

(1) Being itself is the basis upon which proceeds in its individual manifestations as it is considered apart from these manifestations.

God is primordial being. God is ontologically prior to all that is (save himself of course that goes without saying).

Considered in this way God is not a single being since god is not a thing alongside other things in creation. God is unique, not a version of some type of thing. there is nothing else like God. What it means to be is to be a creature of God.

(2) God is the "reality generator" or the mind that thinks the universe.

Metaphorically ;God is a great big mind and we are thoughts in that mind. Thus god is off scale to anything we can think of. Since God is the framework in which our whole existence takes place, we can't think of God as "a being" because he's totlaly off scale, hes not a being along side other beings hes' the basis upon which beingness has any meaning.

These two senses are clearly related since they both stem from God's eternal nature.

Chrisitan Concept?

This may not sound very orthodox, but it is extremely orhtodox.God is not just a big man on a throne, he is not the Zeu Patter(Jupiter,"Sky Father") of Pagan mythology. The great theologians of Chrsitian fatih, the Orthodox Chruch, and theologians such as Paul Tillich and John Mcquarrie, believe, as Timothy Ware (The Orthodox Chruch , New York: Pelican, 1963) quoting St. John of Damascus says, "God does not belong to the class of 'existing' things; not that he has no existence but that he is above existing things, even above existence itself..." The Jewish Virtual Library tells us, "The name of god, which in Hebrew is spelled YHWH, is difficult to explain. Scholars generally believe that it derives from the Semitic word, "to be," and so means something like, 'he causes to be.'"

next: What is the "ground of being?"

List 40 God Arguments

The Religious A priori