Saturday, December 26, 2009

A Jew Reflecting on Jesus' Birth and the Oneness of G-d

[DISCLAIMER: I began writing this on Christmas Day and was unable to finish until after Shabbos due to the complex nature of this topic.]

Some people are reading this right now and are saying to themselves: "Steve has gone absolutely daft.  Why would he reflect about Christmas?"  As my faithful Christians friends remind me, it's not about the presents or Santa Claus.  How the overt materialism of this time of year annoys me to no avail is immaterial.  What is being discussed is what my Evangelical Christians friends say Christmas is about--the birth of Jesus. 

Birth of Jesus.  The notion of it all makes one stop and pause.  Ultimately, it makes me come up with the following question: Can a deity, particularly an infinite one, be born?  Taking a look into Christian theology, the Christians believe in what is called a triune deity, or what is known as a "three-in-one." The concept of a triune deity leads one to another question: Having a triune nature, is Jesus an infinite or finite being?  This question plays an important role in the debate because monotheism, by definition, is the belief in one g-d. Although my Christian friends remind me constantly that Catholicism is not Protestantism, I am nevertheless going to quote the Catholic Church's catechism for the answer:

We firmly believe and confess without reservation that there is only one true G-d, eternal infinite (immensus) and unchangeable, incomprehensible, almighty and ineffable, the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit; three persons indeed, but one essence, substance or nature entirely simple.

This is not only a view of the Catholics; it's also taken on by Lutherans, PresbyteriansSouthern Baptists, and the Greek Orthodox.  I clearly protest their concept of infinity, so what we need at this stage is a working definition of infinite.  After consulting the American Heritage and Webster dictionaries, infinite means "having no boundaries or end, limitless."  Infinity is beyond things (i.e., does not exist within such things) such as space, time, form, matter, physical boundaries, you get the idea.  The antonym, finite, comes from the Latin finire, which means to limit

G-d, which essentially is a name that denotes "the Infinite One," cannot be described.  But you might point out that G-d can be described as infinite, independent, and unlimited.  What one has to keep in mind here is the Maimonidean concept of negative theology, which states that we humans, as finite beings, can only describe G-d in negative attributes.  That is to say that because of G-d's nature (i.e., infinite, boundless, unlimited), we can only describe what G-d is not, not what He is.  To rephrase this concept, G-d is not limited, not finite, and whose existence is not dependent on any other being.  You might tell me that G-d is "omniscient or omnipresent," thereby being positive descriptions.  What needs to be realized is that any seemingly positive description that you have come up with is merely the extension of the definition of infinity.

Infinity is, in short, unimaginable, and consequently indescribable. Thus, if we can describe Jesus, we have an intellectual quandary of gargantuan proportions. So let's try it, shall we? Jesus was a man.  Jesus was a Jew.  Jesus had a beard.  Jesus has been portrayed by many as fair-skinned. What we just did was apply attributes to Jesus, thereby limiting him.  Even the fact I use the past tense to describe Jesus, i.e., Jesus was born, proves that Jesus existed within time rather than beyond it.  Christians will retort that Jesus was simultaneously man and g-d.  This response is problematic because an entity cannot, by definition, be finite and infinite at the same time.  Having your cake and eating it, too, does not work in this argument.  That set aside, what we have done is establish that Jesus had limitations, which means that Jesus cannot be considered an infinite being.

For those of you who are not convinced by this logic, we'll delve further into Christian theology, but before we do that, we need a better understanding of the [Christian] notion of a "triune deity," that being the unity of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (as three persons) in one g-dhead.  Essentially, a triune deity is based on the mathematics of 1+1+1=1. Although an outsider perceives this as faulty math [and rightly so], Christians still attempt to make sense of it.  Going back to the definition provided to us by the Catholic Church's catechism, the Christians definition of G-d is three persons in one essence.  This is not to say that these are three separate names for G-d, but rather they are three separate entities (own emphasis added), which I will illustrate right now.  The best analogy I have heard of this concept was given to me by a Catholic friend when she told me that Jesus is like H2O.  You can have water in three forms: water, ice, and steam.  In essence, it's all H2O, but the forms are different.  The problem with the analogy is that ice has different (and, by extension, limited) uses than water or steam.  I wouldn't use ice for a functioning sauna or steam for a hockey rink.  The same goes for the Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit, which brings us to the question of whether "three persons" can all be called infinite.  Since the Christians already state that there are three distinct entities, we need to take on that view, as well.  This following is an insight that I came across on an online course analyzing the Ramchal's  דרך הי:

Let's call these entities G-d #1 (the Father), G-d #2 (the Son), and G-d #3 (the Holy Spirit).  For two seconds, I would like to entertain the thought of having three infinite beings, meaning they are defined as "infinite, unlimited, formless, independent, and perfect."  If all three are perfect, it seems self-evident that G-d #1 can't have anything that G-d #2 or #3 have, or else #2 and #3 would be lacking and therefore not perfect and unlimited.  So that begs the following question: what makes the trinity three?  I like the tennis ball analogy because it works so well.  Let's say that you have three tennis balls that are "identical."  The truth of the matter is that they are fundamentally not identical at all.  Tennis ball #1 might look identical to the other two tennis balls, but not only are they composed of completely different molecules, but they occupy two separate areas of space, thereby making them distinguishable. 

Let's apply this to the concept of a triune deity.  If you are like many Christians and opine that the Holy Spirit is distinguishable from the Son or the Father, you have a problem.  As soon as you say something distinguishes #1 from #2 and #3, and so on, you are forced to admit that each one cannot be infinitely perfect. You cannot have more than one completely infinite, boundless, limitless, completely independent being that co-exists with the other two.  If the three parts of the triune deity can limit each other, each entity is finite because of the limits imposed by the other.  If they are not able to limit one another, they are already limited because they cannot limit the other two. 

In case that description that I just gave was really, really confusing, I will give you the much shorter version:

  1. An infinite being is one that is not limited, whether that be by time, space, matter, energy, shape, or form.  The reason why the Infinite One is infinite is because He is boundless, making Him beyond such things.
  2. Jesus was limited because he was a Jewish man (limited by form) who was born and ultimately died (bound by time).  An infinite being would not be subject to such limitations, but Jesus was.  This makes Jesus a finite being. 
  3. The notion of a triune deity is incongruous with monotheism.  Christianity believes that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are three distinct entities within one essence.  These three entities cannot simultaneously exist and be infinite because their ability (or even inability) to limit one another makes them limited, thereby making each of them finite.
Conclusion: Two things have been proven today.  The first is that Jesus is not infinite, and the second is that the expression of the Trinity as Infinite Oneness is intellectually unsound.  The best part about this is that I didn't have to even use Scripture--just good 'ole fashion intuition.  For me, this was an intellectual exercise in theological discourse.  For you, the reader, I hope that we developed an accord on this topic, and if even if you don't want to, I hope that at the very least, this entry has been intellectually stimulating.

1 comment:

  1. I'm Christian and I totally agree with your thoughts about the triune god of certain "Christians". Thanks for adding more info to the debunking of this manmade doctrine.